|CLEANING UP: A man takes a break from removing mud from his home in the La Cuarenta neighborhood of Jimani in the Dominican Republic. CARL JUSTE/HERALD STAFF|
BEL ROCH, Haiti – This is where the road ends and the horror begins.
A swirling river that used to be a creek has cut the only road that leads to Mapou, the remote village where several hundred Haitians are feared dead in a catastrophic weekend flood.
But unlike the nearby Dominican side of the border — where 339 bodies have been recovered and about 400 people remain missing — little humanitarian assistance appears to be reaching the Haitian victims on the ground.
U.S. and Canadian military helicopters on Thursday morning delivered some supplies to Mapou, still submerged under flooding, but continuing rains forced the cancellation of several afternoon flights, military spokesmen said.
The foreign troops, sent to Haiti after the Feb. 29 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were ferrying drinking water and basic supplies to the hardest-hit areas and taking in U.N. teams to determine the most immediate needs.
Returning soldiers told of a terrible catastrophe.
”The water was up to the rooftops,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Ryan Scranton, who flew into Mopou Thursday with fresh water. “Some of the locals said they were trying to work on digging graves. It’s funny how they just kind of self-organized.”
He said half the village was under water, and bodies could still be seen floating in the river and washing up on its banks.
Margarette Martin, the Haitian government’s representative for the region that includes Mapou, said as many as 1,000 villagers might have died there. About 270 bodies have been recovered so far, Dr. Yvon Lavissiere, the health director for the region, told The Associated Press.
But Haitian and U.S. government officials confirmed 571 total deaths in Haiti and cautioned that the Mapou area was so remote and decimated that it will take days to tally the casualties.
”This situation is grim,” U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Hans Hertell said after flying over the region.
Besides the U.S. military, few can reach the Haitian side of the disaster area, in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Relief agencies were frustrated because they couldn’t send in their big supplies-laden trucks. Regional police directors can’t get to the place where several of their officers have vanished. And Haitians wanting to check on their relatives in the area can’t get to them.
Even people trained to help can’t.
Antoine Feuz, a logistician with the Red Cross, was frustrated with the lack of passable roads into the Mapou area.
”We know something big is going on. But we can’t get there,” Feuz told The Herald.
Feuz stopped where the road ended suddenly at Bel Roch. For a few moments, he stared at the rushing brown waters of the Peredo River, flowing over what used to be a road.
Torrential rains over the weekend lashed the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, swelling rivers until they overflowed their banks and swept away entire neighborhoods early Monday.
Local residents said Mapou is in a small valley that floods often, but not this bad.
Feuz clambered down the river bank, trying to figure out a way to get his supplies across.
Family members of Mapou’s many missing have also come to the river’s shore in the past several days trying to get across, only to turn away frustrated.
The lush green countryside still trembled Thursday with the booms of thunder echoing on the mountainside. Relentless gray clouds promised ever more rain.
And the river was too deep to pass.
But adventurous boys and men have already made an enterprise of braving the river’s currents to get people and supplies from one side to the other.
They tell of rescuing others who have tried to cross, only to be swept downstream.
”I’ve carried bananas, potatoes, cabbage, people across,” said Anoz Daphenus, 24, who lost count of how many times he has crossed back and forth in the last three days.
Hano Roussea, 36, lived on the banks of the Peredo River until Sunday night when the water suddenly rushed in.
”The water took my house and my mother’s house,” he said. “But, thank God, I’m still alive.”