Sunday, September 19, 2004

Estimated 90 Dead in Haiti from Tropical Storm Jeanne



By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Floods and mudslides from Tropical Storm Jeanne killed about 90 people in Haiti and more were missing in the Caribbean nation on Sunday as the storm swirled in the Atlantic east of the Bahamas, a civil protection official said.

Jeanne previously killed 11 people and destroyed hundreds of houses in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Two days of steady rain sent torrents down the mountains in the Artibonite and Northwest provinces of Haiti, causing rivers to burst their banks and triggering mudslides, civil defense officials said.

U.N. resident coordinator Adama Guindo said members of the Brazilian-led international force trying to restore stability in Haiti after a revolt led to the departure in February of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, told him about 50 people were killed around Gonaives.

The city of 200,000 people was covered with mud and a delegation of officials could not leave the high ground to enter. Many people had climbed onto roofs to escape the floodwaters and were stranded there, the officials said.

The island of La Tortue off Haiti's north coast was barely visible under the water, according to officials who flew over it in a helicopter.

Homes were washed away, cars were caught in the rising water and telephone service was cut off, making it difficult to communicate with emergency officials in the region.

"It's incredible what happened. We are going to help with the assistance. There are a lot of people suffering, they'll need our help." said Brazilian Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, commander of the international force.

Officials with the Office of Civil Protection said about 30 people were also killed in flooding in the Northwest province of Haiti and others are believed missing. About 10 deaths were reported in other areas, and at least 380 were injured, officials said.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said he would declare a state of emergency, and the World Health Organization was sending a team to distribute medical kits.

Haiti is vulnerable to flooding because it has been severely deforested.

Jeanne, which killed two people in Puerto Rico last week, swept north of Hispaniola during the weekend. On Sunday, it was spinning northward in the Atlantic Ocean about 145 miles (230 km) east-northeast of the central Bahamian island of San Salvador and had top sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami expected it to turn to the northeast, away from the Bahamas by late Monday. That path also would spare Florida, which has been devastated by three hurricanes in the last five weeks.

Hurricane Karl strengthened into a fierce Category 4 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity with 135 mph (215 kph) winds. But it was far out in the Atlantic 1,155 miles (1,850 km) east of the Caribbean islands of the Lesser Antilles, and was expected to stay far away from land.