Death toll rises to more than 1,070 in Haiti floods
GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) - Workers used dumptrucks to empty scores of bodies into a ditch Wednesday - the first mass grave for more than 800 flood victims - as bystanders shrieked and the government raised the toll to more than 1,070.
Rescuers counted the bodies of 1,013 flood victims in Gonaives alone by Wednesday night, said Dieufort Deslorges of the government's civil protection agency.
Another 58 bodies have been recovered elsewhere in Haiti's northwest province, Deslorges told The Associated Press.
He said the number of people reported missing since Tropical Storm Jeanne lashed the islands with torrential rains for 30 hours over the weekend was up to 1,250.
Some bodies washed out to sea at Gonaives, dozens remained in still-high waters or floating in flooded houses in the city, he said, indicating that the toll could reach as high as 2,000.
In this impoverished Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, that could be the highest toll ever in a country where disaster strikes frequently and hard.
"We're demanding they come and take the bodies from our fields. Dogs are eating them,'' said farmer Jean Lebrun, 35, listing demands made by property owners near the cemetery whose opposition to mass graves had delayed burials since Monday.
"We can only drink the water people died in,'' he said, listing another demand, for potable water in a city of 250,000 still under water five days after the storm's passage.
Hurricane experts said Wednesday that Jeanne, the storm that wreaked destruction in northwest Haiti, could head back toward the Bahamas and the United States, threatening the battered southeast coast as early as this weekend.
It was too soon to tell where or if Jeanne would hit, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned people in the northwest and central Bahamas and along the southeast U.S. coast to beware of dangerous surf and rip currents kicked up by Jeanne in coming days.
In Gonaives, the third largest city in the country of 8 million, animal carcasses still floated in waters that also could hold human bodies, and survivors are hungry and thirsty.
"The situation is not getting better because people have been without food or water for three or four days,'' Hans Havik, Haiti representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"Water is still high, mud is still there,'' he said. "The population is getting more and more desperate. People are getting more aggressive.''
Earlier Wednesday, U.N. peacekeepers fired into the air to keep a hungry crowd at bay as aid workers handed out loaves of bread - the first food in days for some.
Lebrun said people were angry that officials were not helping them search for the missing.
Rescue workers said Wednesday they were concentrating on getting in food and taking care of piles of bodies that grew outside three morgues, raising fears of health hazards.
Last week, Jeanne also killed seven people in Puerto Rico and 19 in Dominican Republic.
The overall death toll for the Caribbean was at least 817.
At the grave, the sun was setting as three dumptrucks emptied bodies and a crane covered them with a layer of earth.
Raoul Elysee of the Haitian Red Cross said between 100 and 200 were buried and the rest would be buried Thursday.
The decomposing bodies have officials fearful of health risks.
Havik said the contamination of water sources and flooding of latrines could lead cause an outbreak of waterborne diseases.
Martine Vice-Aimee, an 18-year-old mother of two whose home was destroyed, said people already are getting ill.
"People are getting sick from the water, they're walking in it, their skin is getting itchy and rashes. The water they're drinking is giving them stomach aches.''
She said she and two daughters were drinking "Creole water'' - from shallow wells dirtied by contaminated floodwaters.
She stood in a long line but didn't know what she was waiting for outside Gonaives' Roman Catholic cathedral, where hours earlier aid workers had handed out the bread.
She said she had been afraid to fight her way through the crowd.
As they waited, one woman yelled at a Red Cross worker on the balcony of City Hall "Help me. I'm hungry.'' The Red Cross volunteer yelled back "I'm hungry too.''
Havik's federation launched a worldwide appeal Wednesday for $US3.3 million to fund relief operations to 40,000 Haitian victims, and several nations were sending aid.
Homeless survivors sloshed through the streets Wednesday, carrying on their heads pathetic bundles scavenged from the storm.
One woman, painted gray by the mud like many residents, sat on the sidewalk on a bedbase spread with soggy clothes - all she had left in the world.
Waterlines up to 10 feet high on Gonaives' buildings marked the worst of the storm, which sent torrents of water and mudslides down denuded hills, destroying homes and crops.
At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), Jeanne was centered about 500 miles (810 kilometers) east of the Bahamian island of Great Abaco.
It was moving west-southwest and was expected to strengthen and turn toward the west in the next 24 hours.
Hurricane-force winds extended 45 miles (75 kilometers) and tropical-storm force winds another 140 miles (220 kilometers).
Also out in the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Lisa is forecast to take a big swing northward in the next five days, diverting it from a track toward the Leeward Islands, Williams said.
And Hurricane Karl was expected to keep moving away from North America. - AP