PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Haiti continued to attempt to recover from floods and mudslides which have claimed hundreds of lives, as the Caribbean island nation also tries regain its footing from political and social upheaval earlier in the year.
In the early hours of May 24 torrential rains hit, touching off rock- and mudslides that swallowed houses, schools and churches in several communities of the east of the country. The Dominican Republic, which shares Hispaniola Island with Haiti, which was also hit by deadly floods.
Altogether, the deadliest floods in a generation had claimed some 1,000 lives by early Sunday, with about two-third of those deaths occuring in Haiti.
UN officials fear the death toll will grow because of a significant number of missing on both sides of the border.
Relief efforts and reconstruction will only add to the burden of Haiti’s transition government formed after president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country on February 29 amid an uprising.
Three months after president Aristide left the country, violent crime including abductions continue to dog the country.
The new prime minister, Gerard Latortue, already has the difficult task of leading the country to general elections next year so that a new president can take office in February.
But for the time being, his number one priority will be to provide relief to flood victims.
The international community, which has been engaged in the country’s political transition, has begun to rush in assistance.
While the aid effort got off to a slow start at the the beginning of the week, it accelerated Friday as US and Canadian transport helicopters began ferrying emergency supplies, benefiting from better weather conditions.
The floods had cut off roads to the area, leaving helicopters as the only way to deliver medical supplies, water and food.
“We are deeply concerned about the destruction and loss of life that has taken place in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti as a result of recent rains which have produced mudslides, and we are in touch with both governments,” Powell said.
“Fortunately, we had some military forces — as did Canada and France, Chile and other nations — in Haiti that were providing peacekeeping activities, (and) can now also be used for humanitarian rescue operations,” Powell added.
But these troops are due leave the region.
On Tuesday they are scheduled to hand over their responsibilities to a UN force led by a Brazilian general and made up essentially of soldiers from Latin American countries.
Their task will be to assist Haitian police in reorganizing themselves and maintaining security in the country.
With the region’s rainy season due to begin on June 1 and last till November, reconstruction efforts may be frustrated.
“A natural catastrophe added to the misery suffered by local people,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Friday, after touring the disaster area by helicopter. “This is a lot, this is too much for countries like that.”
The Haitian village of Fonds-Verrettes, which had about 45,000 residents, was practically swiped out from the face of the earth.
“It will be necessary to rebuild it elsewhere,” Latortue said this week.
Farther south, the Mapou Belle Anse region was equally devastated. Human bodies continue to float in pools of water created by the rains, according to witnesses.
The community “was almost was completely destroyed,” said Rachid Karoum, a European Union representative in Haiti.
On the Dominican side, the devastation is centered around the town of Jimani located on the other side of the border with Haiti.
Survivors buried their dead there in a mass grave over the weekend to avoid epidemics.