Friday, September 5, 2008

UN Warns of Haiti Flooding Crisis

Several hundred thousand people need help in Haiti, which is suffering severe flooding after being hit by a series of tropical storms, the UN says.

Access is difficult to Haiti's flooded regions

A team from the American Red Cross flew over Gonaives

UN official Joel Boutroue told the BBC that the situation was likely to worsen in the coming days as another strong hurricane, Ike, approaches the region.

Three storms in less than 21 days have killed more than 200 people, Haitian officials say.

Haitian President Rene Preval has said his country faces a "catastrophe".

The latest storm to hit Haiti was Hanna, which swirled over Haiti for four days, dumping massive amounts of rain, blowing down fruit trees and swamping tin-roofed houses.

Massive need

The port city of Gonaives bore the brunt of the storm, forcing thousands of people to seek shelter on rooftops and balconies as flood waters rose.

The BBC's Joseph Guyla Delva, who accompanied a team from the UN's peacekeeping mission as they flew by helicopter over the area, says many houses have been damaged or destroyed.

Agricultural land has been totally flooded, he says, and the loss of crops is set to push food costs higher.

"There is no food, no water, no clothes," Arnaud Dumas, a pastor at a Gonaives church, told the Associated Press news agency.

"I want to know what I'm supposed to do. We haven't found anything to eat in two, three days. Nothing at all."

An AP reporter in the city said safe drinking water was in very short supply, and fetid carcasses of drowned farm animals were strewn in soupy floodwaters.

Help is arriving in the area, with UN troops picking people from rooftops and Spain announcing that a planeload of aid was being flown in from Panama.

But floodwaters were frustrating efforts to distribute food, the UN said.

Instability fears

Mr Boutroue, the UN co-ordinator for humanitarian aid in Haiti, told the BBC: "We're already facing a lot of difficulty trying to respond.

"In Gonaives alone we have some 70,000 people in shelters, and around 250,000 around Gonaives City need our assistance and that of the government, and throughout the country I would say around up to 600,000 people might require our assistance."

The storms, Mr Boutroue said, were likely to deepen further Haiti's already extreme poverty.

"That potentially means more instability unless we can ensure an adequate response," he said.

The UN is stepping up its aid efforts and is launching an appeal for help, Mr Boutroue said.

The British Red Cross has also announced it is launching an appeal, saying the needs of Haiti were "massive".

Red Cross workers were also helping residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands, north of Haiti, rebuild after Hanna ripped through there on Monday.

"Our volunteers have been supporting the shelters here with food and shelter management, transporting people to hospital, and handing out tarpaulins to help keep roofs on," said the organisation's Clive Evans, on the islands.

"There are abandoned cars everywhere, overturned boats, uprooted trees, downed power lines and flooded roads."

US prepares

At 0600 GMT on Friday, Hanna was about 90km (55 miles) north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and some 790km south of Wilimington, North Carolina, the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

There are fears it could become a hurricane by the time it hits land along the US coast on Saturday, but the storm's uncertain path means officials are holding off ordering an evacuation.

However, a hurricane watch is in place in North and South Carolina.

Some residents of those states have already moved boats and booked inland hotel rooms.

Separately, storm Ike has strengthened rapidly into an extremely powerful Category Four hurricane in the open Atlantic, the NHC says.

However, it says it is too early to determine if Ike poses any threat to land.

Haiti was first drenched by Tropical Storm Fay, before Hurricane Gustav wreaked havoc last week, with torrential rainfall over heavily deforested and hilly terrain causing floods and mudslides.
Source: BBC

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