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Death toll in Haiti floods rises to 1,650
Updated: 2004-09-27 09:55

The death toll in disastrous flooding in Haiti has risen to some 1,650, with about 800 people still missing, a government official said on Sunday.

Hurricane Jeanne, which hurtled ashore on Florida's east coast on Saturday, lashed Haiti with torrential rains as a tropical storm a week ago.

Flood waters and mud cascaded into the northern city of Gonaives and other parts of the north and northwest, leaving tens of thousands of people with nothing in the poorest country in the Americas.

Carl Murat Cantave, a Haitian government official, said the toll was now 1,650. The toll could rise well above 2,000 as more bodies are recovered from Gonaives, a port city of 200,000, and outlying areas.

Efforts to distribute food, water and other relief supplies have been hampered by security problems and on Saturday a convoy of government trucks bringing aid was attacked by gunmen and people with machetes as it entered the city, officials said.

There have been several incidents of attacks by gangs in the city, as well as scuffles among people desperate for food and water. Street gangs rule many of Haiti's squalid slums, and helped lead a bloody revolt that forced former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee into exile on Feb. 29.

One Gonaives resident, Josepha Jean-Louis, 39, said that a cousin of hers went to a distribution center to get a food hand-out and later in the day their house was attacked by armed men who took the food and ran.

United Nations peacekeepers are in the city to protect food distribution centers and help with logistics. They are part of a Brazilian-led U.N. force sent to maintain order in the country after Aristide's ouster.

Paul Gustave Magloire, a special advisor to interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, said of the security problems "the government is doing everything possible to address the situation but the population should also cooperate."

"We count on the U.N. troops to help us because the police do not have the means," he said.

A week after the flooding engulfed much of Gonaives, many people were still living on the roofs of their homes.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Anne Poulsen, said that over the last three days, some 120 tons of food had been distributed, enough food for about 200,000 people for a day.

"What we did so far is only a beginning. We'll keep on getting food in there ... what we hope is to get resources to help at least 100,000 people for at least 5 months, that's our estimation."

"There are areas up north of Gonaives where people are completely isolated, the roads are washed away. We used donkeys and mules after the trucks couldn't go any further."

"This is a tragedy for the people of Gonaives and for Haiti," she said.

Haiti is prone to deadly floods because 98 percent of its forests have been chopped down, largely to make charcoal for cooking. In May, about 2,000 people died in flooding in the south of the country.

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