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Hundreds buried in Haiti as flood deaths top 1,000
Updated: 2004-09-23 09:52

Haiti began burying hundreds of flood victims in mass graves on Wednesday while emergency food was distributed to some of the thousands of people made homeless by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

The death toll rose to 1,008 in the Artibonite region around the northern coastal city of Gonaives and 72 in Haiti's Northwest province, said Dr. Carl Murat Cantave, a government official.

A dog that survived the flood takes refuge on top of a car in Gonaives, Haiti, September 22, 2004. [Reuters]

Another 1,000 people were missing and the final death count was likely to hit 2,000, he said.

Walls of water roared down from the Caribbean country's deforested hills as the storm passed north of Haiti during the weekend, and left Gonaives and Port-de-Paix, another northern city, under a dense crust of mud.

Government workers and U.N. peacekeepers were burying the dead in mass graves to prevent the spread of disease.

Two girls wait in line for food and water distributions in Gonaives, Haiti, September 22, 2004. [Reuters]

Truckloads of bodies in plastic bags were delivered for burial at the Bois Marchand cemetery near Gonaives and police were called in to calm neighbors who angrily protested the mass burials, Cantave said.

The U.N.'s World Food Program said its first convoy of trucks carrying 40 metric tons of food arrived Tuesday night and aid agencies were distributing rice, beans, cooking oil and loaves of fresh bread.

"At this point we think at least 175,000 people are affected across the country. Many of them were already very vulnerable and now, they have lost their homes, their entire crops, their animals and the few belongings they had," said the WFP country director, Guy Gauvreau.

"It is a huge disaster. The water has just washed away everything," he said.

Police tried to keep order as desperately hungry people swarmed the food distribution sites. One policeman was hit by a rock and injured while trying to hold back the crowd.

The WFP has long provided food for 500,000 people in the poorest country of the Americas, and increased operations after a violent revolt forced ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee into exile on Feb. 29.

Devastating floods and mudslides in May, in which about 2,000 people died, further aggravated the humanitarian disaster facing the county. Haiti is chronically vulnerable to flooding because of widespread deforestation caused by Haitians digging up roots to make charcoal for cooking.

U.N. forces maintaining the peace after Aristide's departure were helping with rescue and relief efforts.

The international Red Cross, meanwhile, launched a worldwide appeal for $3.3 million to help the flood victims.

Haitian-American hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean joined aid workers. "I came here to see my people, to see their desperation and to assess the situation and see how we can help," Jean told Reuters. "I want to be able to tell the world about the disaster I witnessed here."

He said he was trying to organize a "peace concert" for Haiti later this year featuring top international stars.

Jeanne also killed 11 people in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and two in the U.S. Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico.

By 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Jeanne was 500 miles east of Great Abaco island in the northeastern Bahamas and moving slowly west-southwest.

Packing winds of 100 mph, the storm was expected to swing to the west eventually and may threaten the east coast of the United States next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Florida has already been battered by three big hurricanes this season.

Two other storms continued to swirl through the Atlantic. Hurricane Karl was about 1,400 miles west-southwest of the Azores and unlikely to threaten land.

Tropical Storm Lisa was also far from land, at about 1,205 miles west of the Cape Verde islands.

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