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Rescue Workers Struggle to Bring Aid to Haitian Flood Victims - 2004-09-27

Insecurity continues to hamper relief efforts in northern Haiti, as rescue workers struggle to distribute relief supplies to thousands of flood victims in the city of Gonaives. More than 1,300 people died in the flooding, and over 1,000 are still missing.

Convoys of relief aid charge through floodwaters up to four feet deep on some parts of the road into Gonaives, as hundreds of people line the street begging for food.

On Saturday, at least three relief vehicles were overtaken by people desperate for aid. U.N. peacekeepers fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse a mob that attempted to ransack relief supplies in a schoolyard. Local officials say on Sunday, two people were injured by tear gas.

Relief workers say that a convoy of relief trucks was attacked by gunmen on its way into Gonaives. They say that armed gangs have attacked flood victims, raiding homes and ambushing people on the street to take the food and water out of their hands.

The United Nations has sent 140 troops to reinforce the city. Currently over 600 peacekeepers stand guard over warehouses of relief supplies.

Toussaint Congo-Doudou is the spokesman for the U.N. mission to Haiti. He says security is a major concern, one that is being made worse by the desperation of a hungry population and logistical problems.

"We have to understand that people in the affected area have stayed many days without food or water, and when people are in such conditions and when food arrives, all of them jump on trucks and it makes distribution very difficult," he said. "We only have two active distribution points, and there are 297,000 people affected by the flood - in such a condition it is very difficult to control the crowd, when the crowd is hungry."

The World Food Program says more than 120 tons of food have made it into the area, with about 40 tons being delivered every day. But the U.N. says that aid has reached only one-tenth of the population.

Medical supplies are also lacking in an area inundated by contaminated water. A U.N. official says diarrhea and gangrene are becoming common, particularly among children. He says in some cases, doctors have been forced to operate without anesthesia.

Local officials say they are planning to partially evacuate the city in the coming days so they can begin clean-up operations.