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Haiti Toll Rises as Health Fears Grow

More than 1,100 bodies have been found, and 1,250 people are missing after Jeanne. Desperate survivors could face an epidemic of disease.

September 24, 2004|From Associated Press

GONAIVES, Haiti — Hungry, thirsty and increasingly desperate residents attacked one another in a panic to get scarce food and water Thursday as workers struggled to bury hundreds of people killed by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

The death toll was rising, with more than 1,100 bodies recovered and 1,250 people missing. The storm left 300,000 homeless in Haiti's northwestern province, which includes the port of Gonaives.

Health workers fear an epidemic of disease in the country's third-largest city from unburied dead, overflowing sewage, lack of potable water and infections from injuries.

Some people were already falling ill.

"We were saved from the floods, but now my baby is sick," said Marilucie Fortune, 30, who gave birth to a son in a slum last weekend, when Jeanne pounded Haiti with torrential rain for 30 hours. Jeanne has since become a hurricane.

Haiti's civil protection agency said more than 900 people had been treated for injuries, mostly cuts or gashes from debris. Medics from the U.N. peacekeeping forces have pitched in.

The General Hospital -- still knee-deep in mud -- was out of commission, medical supplies were running out, and some aid trucks were unable to reach the city because part of the road had washed away.

Hundreds of people pushed through a wooden barrier to crowd into Gonaives' sole working clinic, where one doctor was on duty.

Flood waters remained knee-deep in some locations.

Elsewhere, workers dug mass graves, and some residents of the seaside slum of Carenage had grown so desperate to get rid of the decaying corpses that they were burying unidentified victims in their backyards.

"There are so many bodies, you smell them but you don't see them," farmer Louise Roland said.

Like many, she held a lime to her nose to mask the stench.

Limited distribution of aid left most people still hungry and thirsty -- or drinking the only water they could get.

Martine Vice-Aimee, an 18-year-old mother of two whose home was destroyed, said people were getting sick from the water.

"We can only drink the water people died in," said farmer Jean Lebrun.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed for $3.3 million for relief operations; several nations were sending help.

The U.S. government will provide more than $2 million for immediate relief in the coming days, said Jose Fuentes, a spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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