By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer

FOND VERRETTES, Haiti – Haiti’s impoverished children often are the first casualties of disaster, and recent floods were no exception.

Children, many underfed and not knowing how to swim, made up nearly half of some 3,400 victims on the Haitian-Dominican border.

Families wept over tiny caskets that lined muddy streets in the Dominican border town of Jimani last week ? haunting testimony to victims of the torrents that swept away three neighborhoods of wooden shacks built by Haitian migrants.

Small bodies were among those thrown into shallow mass graves in Jimani when the nearly 500 dead overwhelmed officials.

The juvenile death toll in Haiti, which shares the small island with the Dominican Republic, will add to statistics making it one of the world’s hardest countries for children to survive in, according to a Save the Children report.

“The challenges children face in Haiti on a good day are among the worst in the world,” said Mike Kiernan, spokesman for the Save the Children charity.

Haiti has the highest infant mortality rate in the hemisphere. Eighty of every 1,000 children born here die before their first birthday, compared with seven out of 1,000 in the United States.

Aid agencies in Haiti still were trying to reach the smallest survivors in the hardest-hit villages more than 10 days after the disaster struck.

“Nearly half of the food will likely be for children,” said Inigo Alvarez, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program.

A WFP convoy of trucks arrived Thursday in the southeast village of Fond Verrettes, delivering the first food in nearly a week. WFP officials said it would feed 1,700 families of five for a week.

But the size of the huge crowd welcoming the trucks, and random interviews with about 20 families of 10 people or more, indicated there was not enough food for all.

The supplies were the first to be delivered by road since U.S. Marines leading a multinational force suspended relief helicopter flights this week, saying the crisis was over.

“The crisis is not over for thousands of families who have not been reached,” Kiernan said.

As many as 20,000 people in nine villages have not been reached since the floods and urgently need food, he said.

But Kiernan praised the military’s success in ferrying food to Fond Verrettes and neighboring Mapou, in the south of the island.

“There’s no question about it ? they have saved lives,” he said.

The trucks lumbered into Fond Verrettes over a riverbed choked with boulders and rocks swept down from denuded mountains before dawn on May 24. A lone house was left perching lopsided on the bank.

Hundreds of children were in the crowd that rushed to greet the trucks. They all had a story to tell of parents, friends and siblings carried away by floods that barreled down the mountains while many were sleeping.

“I saw the water taking everything. It took my cousins and it took a lot of my friends ? it killed at least eight of my friends,” said Mildred Mira, a 16-year-old so stunted by malnutrition she looked 6.

“A lot of us are still really scared because at night we’re always thinking that more rains are going to come.”

Aid workers said that was all too likely as the six-month Caribbean hurricane season debuted Tuesday.

Lenor Zetrene, 8, lost a mother who made him laugh and a father who worked hard at farming so the boy could stay in school.

“When we saw the water, we started running up the mountains. My mum and dad stayed in the house, trying to save some things, but the water came too fast and they couldn’t get out,” he said.

When the waters subsided two days later, he returned to find his home and his parents had vanished.

“I really miss her a lot,” said the youngster, who is being cared for by an aunt. “She made me laugh by singing and telling me jokes.”

Jean Riga Joseph, 10, is haunted by his failure to rouse his father fast enough.

“Water started pouring into the house from both the front and back doors. My dad was asleep,” he said. “I tried to wake him up, but he couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.”


On the Web:, Save the Children, World Food Program