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Aid Workers in Haiti Struggle to Provide Relief for Flooding Victims - 2004-09-24

Aid workers continue to struggle to provide relief in the flood zone of northern Haiti. Massive flooding in the city of Gonaives earlier this week claimed more than 1,000 lives, and about 1,200 others are still missing. U.N. officials estimate that a quarter of a million people are homeless and officials are struggling to provide relief supplies.

The flood waters have receded in much of Gonaives, Haiti's second largest city. Survivors wander through the streets knee-deep in mud, looking for lost relatives, food and water.

Hundreds of people wait in line outside the U.N. peacekeepers' base camp, hoping for relief. Rumors pass through the crowd that there is no more rice, and people become agitated. Armed U.N. soldiers stand guard over the supplies.

One man says he has had nothing to eat for five days. He is thirsty, and has been waiting under the blazing sun for four hours for his ration of food and water.

Aid officials say that as many as 175,000 people are in need of immediate relief. They say insecurity continues to hamper relief efforts. More than once, hungry crowds have overtaken aid vehicles and ransacked supplies. On Wednesday, U.N. peacekeepers fired into the air to disperse an angry mob.

In many parts of the city, blocked roads continue to hamper relief efforts. The World Food Program has delivered over 90 tons of food to the flood area, but much of it is dry goods, and survivors have neither the fuel nor the pots to cook.

Red Cross officials say that the water supply has been contaminated by sewage, debris, and decomposing bodies. They have warned of impending epidemics. Local officials began burying hundreds of bodies in mass graves, to prevent the spread of disease. Most of the bodies have not been identified.

U.N. spokesman Congo Doudou says that the U.N. does not have adequate resources to handle the situation. He has appealed to the international community to come forward with aid. "What is needed once again is medical supplies, food, water - because there is no good water for people to drink and of course, clothing, because people are living on rooftops," he said. "The worst case scenario would be to have another storm when people are living on rooftops."

It is unlikely that another storm will hit Gonaives in the next few days. But for the rest of Haiti, the risk of flooding is high. Peasants have cut down most of the trees for firewood, leaving the hillsides barren. As Haiti enters the rainy season, environmental experts say deforestation is likely to cause only more flooding.