(AFP) – Oct 13, 2007
CABARET, Haiti (AFP) — Residents of flooded villages where at least 47 people were killed just north of Haiti's capital, on Saturday started to try to pick up the scattered pieces of their lives.
After driving rains let loose raging floodwaters in this mountainous Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Americas, two more bodies found on Saturday took the toll up to at least 47 dead here, authorities said.
But the toll remained preliminary.
Desperate locals were still struggling to cope with staggering losses, even as the teeming capital was spared.
"We cannot count the dead; we are burying in boxes the bodies we are finding without being able to identify them," one official in hard-hit Bretelle said privately.
Cabaret's justice of the peace Ferdinand Senatus said that he had not even seen what may have happened further up the hills.
From what he had seen here, though, "there are easily 20,000 people left homeless by these floods."
"Everything came down from above," said resident Welene Nelson, pointing up the mountainside where few trees or rocks can be seen.
Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east, faces regular flash-flooding during the rainy season. Deforestation, which heightens the risk of flooding, is rife here as in most rural towns as the poor collect every scrap of wood for cooking.
"The water came down really strong from the mountains; it burst the river and swept into the houses in its path," said Nelson, exhausted after spending hours cleaning out what remains of her home.
Civil protection authorities said thousands of families were displaced and hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged across the country. Roads were swamped and plantations wiped out.
"Farming has been particularly affected and many crops have been destroyed," Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said.
Raoul, a villager who spent years working in the United States and had outfitted his home with electrical generators and modern appliances, was another one of the victim. He could not even get out in an all-terrain vehicle; all the roads were cut off.
Another neighbor, a teacher, showed a reporter inside her home, where she said waters rose a meter high, and everything was lost.
Haiti is a country where most people face acute distress and desolation daily, even without their homes being swept away.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Haitian government really has been nowhere to be seen on the ground though it has released funds to send food and beds to the stricken areas.
"They are simply leaving victims to their fate," argued an enraged Pierre-Eric Jean-Jacques under the morning sun.
"There is a foreign army on our soil," he said, referring to the UN stabilization mission that was deployed after former president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled an uprising in February 2004.
"We should ask the UN mission to help transport government members in, and bring aid for victims to them wherever they are," he said, a few hours before Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis scheduled a fly-in visit by helicopter, a UN spokesman said.
"Now that retaining walls have fallen down (on the hillsides), the next rains will do even more damage," lamented Jacquelin, a local teenager who had harsh words for the lack of assistance from authorities.
For now "some refugees are staying at churches, or town schools further away," she said.
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