September 26, 2004 in Nation/World

Toll in Haiti from Jeanne rises to 1,500

Amy Bracken Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A U.N. peacekeeper from Brazil, center, runs as he tries to stop the looting of a truck with food to be distributed Saturday to hurricane victims in Gonaives, Haiti.
(Full-size photo)

GONAIVES, Haiti – The death toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne shot up to an estimated 1,500 Saturday, with hundreds of Haitians still missing as a thunderstorm drenched the homeless who are living on rooftops and sidewalks.

U.N. peacekeepers said they were sending reinforcements to help keep order among desperate survivors who have been looting aid trucks and mobbing food distribution centers.

A boy was struck and killed by a truck as crowds of hungry flood victims pressed up against the gates of a warehouse storing food aid, said Roseline Corvil, an official of the aid agency CARE International. The boy, believed to be 13, was hit as the driver attempted to leave. “I presume that he did not see the child,” she said.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue estimated more than 1,500 dead, said Paul Magloire, an adviser. Some 300,000 are homeless, most in the northwestern city of Gonaives.

Hundreds remain missing but the government hasn’t released a new estimate. Earlier Saturday, officials said 1,200 were unaccounted for, but many of them were likely in Latortue’s revised death toll.

Magloire said later the government was considering a rotating evacuation of the mud-coated and soggy city to allow cleanup operations. He said the plan was still under discussion, but the idea was to move people temporarily to tent camps while workers cleaned and disinfected neighborhood by neighborhood.

With gang members trying to steal food out of the hands of people at aid centers, 140 Uruguayan soldiers were on their way to reinforce about 600 U.N. peacekeepers already in this hard-hit city, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.

“Security is one of our major concerns,” he said.

Officials said gangsters had forced their way into distribution centers and stolen food. Kongo-Doudou said troops had been able to chase them away without violence.

A U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator, Eric Mouillesarine, said people were mobbing relief workers and “there’s nothing we can do.”

U.N. troops from Argentina fired smoke grenades Friday when about 500 men, women and children tried to break into a schoolyard where CARE International was handing out grain and water to an orderly line of women. The sunburned, unwashed flood victims returned in surges once the air cleared.

The director of the World Food Program’s Haiti operation, Guy Gavreau, said Friday that aid groups had been able to get food to only about 25,000 people this week – one-tenth of Gonaives’ population.

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