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Death toll set to rise as Haitians begin salvage effort

Published 07/10/2016

Personal items lie scattered outside homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes (AP)
Personal items lie scattered outside homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes (AP)

The death toll in Haiti is set to rise 'significantly higher' than the 300 already recorded, officials warned, after the impoverished country was devastated by Hurricane Matthew.

The central government's official death toll stood at nearly 300, but an official said that figure did not include at least 80 more people and authorities doing the on-ground assessment in remote corners of the south-western peninsula said it would likely be significantly higher.

Saint-Victor Jeune, an official with the Civil Protection agency working in Beaumont, in the mountains on the outskirts of hard-hit Jeremie, said 82 bodies found by his team had not been recorded by authorities in the capital because of poor communications. Most appeared to have died from falling debris from the winds that tore through the area at 145 mph (235 kph) on Tuesday.

"We don't have any contact with Port-au-Prince yet and there are places we still haven't reached," Mr Jeune said, as he and a team of Civil Protection agents in orange vests combed through the area.

The storm left signs of devastation all around the south-western peninsula. Outside the coastal town of Jeremie, home after home was in ruins. Drew Garrison, a Haiti-based missionary who flew in Friday, said several fishing villages along the coast were submerged and he could see bodies floating in the water.

"Anything that wasn't concrete was flattened," said Mr Garrison, whose organisation, Mission of Hope Haiti, based in Austin, Texas, was bringing in a barge loaded with emergency supplies on Saturday. "There were several little fishing villages that just looked desolate, no life."

Solette Phelicin, a mother of five who lost her home and her small fruit and vegetable plot, watched from her yard as UN peacekeepers patrolled the small air strip. She said they were hungry and desperately in need of food. "Jeremie might get rebuilt after I'm dead, maybe, but I doubt it."

As Haitians mourned their losses, they tried to recover what they could of their belongings. Homes throughout the area were piles of rubble, the roofs mangled or stripped away.

Workers from the International Organisation of Migration and other groups were going through the area to assess the damage and provide assistance, though their efforts were hampered by damaged roads, rough terrain and other factors.

"Devastation is everywhere," said Pilus Enor, mayor of Camp Perrin, a town near the port city of Les Cayes on the peninsula's south shore. "Every house has lost its roof."

Officials were especially concerned about the department of Grand-Anse on the northern tip of the peninsula, where they believe the death toll and damage is highest.

Emmanuel Pierre, an Interior Ministry coordinator in Les Cayes, said that authorities had counted 283 people dead in one part of Haiti's hard-hit south-west, but that did not include Grand-Anse or its surrounding areas.

When Category 4 Hurricane Flora hit Haiti in 1963, it killed as many as 8,000 people.

More bodies began to appear on Thursday as waters receded in some places two days after Matthew's 145 mph (235 kph) winds smashed concrete walls, flattened palm trees and tore roofs off homes, forcing thousands of Haitians to flee.

Those killed in Haiti included a woman and her six-year-old daughter who frantically abandoned their flimsy home and headed to a nearby church to seek shelter as Matthew surged in early Tuesday, said Ernst Ais, mayor of the town of Cavaillon.

"On the way to the church, the wind took them," Mr Ais said.

Officials said that food and water were urgently needed, noting that crops had been levelled, wells inundated by seawater and some water treatment facilities destroyed.

Officials with the Pan American Health Organisation warned about a possible surge in cholera cases because of the widespread flooding caused by Matthew.

Haiti's government has estimated at least 350,000 people need some kind of assistance in what is likely to be the country's worst humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

International aid groups are already appealing for donations for a lengthy recovery effort in Haiti, the hemisphere's least-developed and most aid-dependent nation.

In the coming days, the US military expects to help deliver food and water to hard-hit areas via helicopter.

AP

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