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Posted Sunday, November 4, 2007
Desperation grows as rains pound Haiti
By Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press Writer

LES CAYES, Haiti - Thousands of Haitians sought shelter in schoolhouses Saturday as the death toll from Tropical Storm Noel rose to 143 across the Caribbean.

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Residents struggle to cross a flooded river due to heavy rains caused by tropical storm Noel, in Leogan, southern Haiti, Monday, Oct. 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Heavy rains continued to pound Haiti, leaving U.N. and Haitian officials temporarily stranded as they toured Haiti's flooded southern peninsula.

Noel, which was lashing the northeastern United States with high winds and rough surf Saturday, is the deadliest storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, with the greatest devastation on the waterlogged island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Desperation set in at shelters in the volatile Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, with people at one schoolhouse complaining on Saturday that U.N. guards abandoned the site overnight, allowing for a group of machete-wielding men to enter and threaten to rape young women.

Roseline Pierre, a 46-year-old mother with four children, said they had not received any food since Friday afternoon, and that shelter officials locked them out of classrooms Friday night, forcing everyone to sleep in the yard.

"What they're doing to them is terrible," said Laine Pierre Raymond, an official with the Ministry of Interior who toured the shelter on Saturday and criticized authorities for their inaction.

Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, Brazilian commander of the U.N. force, also visited the shelter and denied guards had left their post overnight. He said responsibility for the nearly 10,000 evacuees rests with Haitian authorities.

But the Haitian government, still struggling to rebuild after years of turmoil, has been almost entirely dependent on overtaxed international aid groups and U.N. peacekeepers to cope with the disaster.

In the southwestern town of Les Cayes, residents demanded government compensation for cows, goats and even TV sets they lost in the flood.

"It rained for two days without stopping," said 44-year-old farmer Marcel Delswain. "We lost our land. We lost our food. We feel abandoned."

Agricultural fields have turned into lakes as water cascaded down eroded mountains, pumping plumes of sediment into the Caribbean Sea.

Rains let up in the neighboring Dominican Republic, however, allowing flights carrying urgently needed relief supplies. An estimated 67,000 Dominicans were left homeless.

Tropical Storm Noel killed at least 57 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic has confirmed 84 deaths from the storm. Noel killed at least one person each in Jamaica and the Bahamas, and prompted the evacuation of 30,000 people in Cuba, where 60 percent of roads and highways were damaged or flooded.

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage toured flooded areas on Saturday and said he discussed the storm's impact with the island's ailing leader Fidel Castro. "Comrade Fidel has been kept abreast of all the damages," Lage said on state TV.

Impoverished Haiti, however, is particularly vulnerable to flooding because people have cut down most of the country's trees to make charcoal, leaving the hillsides barren and unable to absorb heavy rain.

Before Noel hit, at least 37 people had died in floods last month during a deluge that wrecked a town north of Port-au-Prince.

The Dominican Republic is not as deforested but also suffers from severe flooding because of its steep mountains and people who live in simple homes along its rivers.

U.S. Coast Guard crews deployed to Dominican Republic rescued several people Friday, including a man tangled in a barb-wire fence who was submerged up to his neck in water. Rescuers also saved a man in his 70s or 80s trapped in a second-story home with a 9-year-old child. Crews delivered 15,900 food rations, according to a statement released by the agency.

___ Associated Press writers Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Jose Monegro in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Will Weissert in Havana contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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