Flood victims leave the area in the back of a truck through flooded streets after Tropical Storm Hanna hit in the area in Gonaïves, Haiti, last Saturday. Hanna killed 166 people in Haiti, and officials feared the death tolls would only rise as dangerous Hurricane Ike tore its way through the already-flooded city. (AP photo/Ariana Cubillos)
|Residents wade through a flooded street after heavy rains in Gonaïves, Haiti, last Sunday. Hurricane Ike damaged most homes on Grand Turk island, roared onto the Bahamas, raked Haiti’s already-flooded cities with rain, and threatened the Florida Keys on its way to Cuba as a ferocious Category 4 storm. (AP photo/Ariana Cubillos)|
GONAÏVES, Haiti — Authorities fear that the death toll in the flooded city of Gonaïves could rise into the hundreds as U.N. peacekeepers and aid groups rush food and water to tens of thousands left hungry by the combined devastation of Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike.
Officials are still trying to assess the damage, but it is possible that there are several hundred dead, said Godson Orelus, departmental director of Haitian national police for Artibonite region.
“We have not found 500 bodies,” he said, referring to reports that he called inaccurate. But officials said at least 163 people across Haiti had died in the aftermath of Hannah as of last Saturday.
The situation only got worse with the arrival of Hurricane Ike. Hundreds of people fled the waterlogged city last Saturday for higher ground as the powerful Category 4 storm unleashed heavy rains, compounding the disaster caused by Hannah.
The additional flooding damaged the Mirebalais bridge, cutting off the last land route into Gonaïves, Agriculture Minister Joanas Gay told state-run Radio Nationale. Half the homes in Gonaïves, Haiti’s fourth-largest city, were already under water.
The rain stopped and floodwaters started to recede Monday morning. Residents who had taken refuge in the mountains began walking back to their mud-filled homes.
“People are starting to move back because they have nowhere to go,” said Eric Mouillefarine, an official with the U.N. Development Program. “They want to protect their homes from looters.”
In the northern coastal town of Cap-Haïtien, authorities tried to move thousands of people into shelters ahead of Ike, said Father Duken Augustin, a priest who was helping with the effort. But the town offered only a few school and churches, he said.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “We will try to do what we can … People are really, really, really scared.”
Floodwaters that destroyed the majority of the region’s crops still remained, Augustin said.
“We have a very bad situation,” he said. “Please say a prayer for us.”
As U.N. food trucks rumbled through damp streets in Gonaïves last Saturday, dozens of children raised their arms and ran after them.
“Hungry! Hungry!” they yelled.(p2)