Sorrow and hunger overwhelm Haitian storm shelter

By Joseph Guyler Delva

GONAIVES, Haiti, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Survivors of Tropical Storm Hanna crowded a shelter in the Haitian port city of Gonaives on Thursday, weeping for loved ones swept away by the floods and lining up to register for food that did not arrive.

Most had eaten nothing since Hanna's torrential rains submerged Gonaives under 2 metres (6.5 feet) of water on Tuesday. Some had only the clothes on their backs, others not even that.

"I lost everything in the flooding. All I own is what I wear," said Gerta Meus, cradling her naked 2-year-old daughter.

At least 136 people died in floods and mudslides triggered by Hanna, many of them in the Gonaives area, said the civil protection office in the poorest country of the Americas.

Afflicted by political chaos, bloodshed and natural disasters since it won independence from France in a slave revolt two centuries ago, the mud-caked scenes of misery in Gonaives were not unprecedented for Haiti. The last time floods like this occurred in Gonaives in 2004, 3,000 died.

Many in Gonaives survived this time by scrambling onto rooftops as the water rose, then waded through the mud to the shelter after it receded.

Jacqueline Meranvil, 21, said she and her younger sister climbed first onto the top of a fence and from there onto their roof, "but my mother who is 60 could not climb and we couldn't help her so she died."

Hoarse from screaming and weak from hunger, Widline Jean-Louis sat on the shelter floor trying to breastfeed her 13-month-old daughter.

"The water entered my house and some people helped us get on top of the roof but when my husband was coming to join us he tried to climb on top of the roof and fell and he was taken away by the water before our eyes," Jean-Louis said.

"My daughter is very sick and nobody's there to help me."

Bridges and roads were washed out, making it difficult for aid to reach the coastal city. Children cried from hunger while adults lined up to register to receive food but there was none to distribute. The food warehouses had flooded.

Hospital patients had been taken to the shelter and left there to fend for themselves.

A woman whose 3-month-old son was born with hydrocephalus, an enlarged head, said he had been receiving intravenous medicine at the hospital but they had to leave it because of the flooding. Without food or medicine, he was growing sicker and sicker, she said.

A medical team from the aid group Doctors Without Borders arrived on Thursday and was setting up a clinic in the Raboteau slum neighborhood, but it was soon overwhelmed by the number of people asking for help.

Some people simply roamed the muddy streets, looking for something to eat or somewhere else to go.

(Writing by Jane Sutton, Editing by Michael Christie)


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