By. Joseph Guyler Delva, Agence France-Presse, The Gazette
June 7, 2011- PORT-AU-PRINCE – Torrential rains lashed Haiti on Tuesday, flooding shanty towns, swamping the squalid camps erected after a 2010 earthquake and killing at least 13 people, officials said.
The worst rains to hit the impoverished country this year — at the start of the hurricane season — paralyzed the capital, where most of the deaths took place, Yolaine Surena of Haiti’s civil protection agency told AFP.
Thunderstorms were pounding several north Caribbean islands early Tuesday, but there was little chance of the large low pressure area developing into a hurricane, according to the U.S.-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Several days of rain had already swelled rivers, however, and the NHC warned that the rains “could cause flash floods and mudslides over portions of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba.”
Two people died in Haiti as waters rose in the downtown tent camp near the ruined presidential palace, two children were buried when their home collapsed and another six people died in the upscale Petionville district, Surena said.
A civil protection agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity, later confirmed that the toll had risen to 13, with two people killed in the Centre region and another in Nippes, west of the capital.
Newly elected President Michel Martelly headed to the city’s poorest neighborhood, Cite Soleil, which officials said was completely swamped by the rainfall and where people sought higher ground on the roofs of their homes.
“I was in the streets during the rain, and I got home, put my boots on, and I’m back in the streets to assess the situation,” Martelly said in remarks broadcast on national television.
“I’m now trying to help people and distribute some food. I hope people can find shelter,” said Martelly, who handed out supplies with members of his new cabinet.
The rains brought the city to a standstill, with waters coursing through the streets and cars jammed up in long lines, some abandoned by their owners. The floodwater was reportedly four feet (1.2 meters) deep in some camps.
The rain let up during the day but the forecast called for another downpour overnight and into Wednesday, raising fears that mud slides could sweep away entire camps perched on the bare slopes around the capital and other cities.
More than 3,000 people died in Gonaives, a Haitian city of some 300,000, when it was flooded by Tropical Storm Jeanne in September 2004.
In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, more than 8,000 people have been evacuated in recent days and authorities have put several regions on high alert for severe flooding.
In one southern Dominican province some 400 families were cut off when the Ozama river flooded, officials said.
In Jamaica, the national meteorological service issued flash flood warnings for low-lying areas, parts of Kingston and surrounding towns.
But Haiti was most at risk of devastation from the wet weather, due to its crumbling infrastructure and ramshackle shelters for tens of thousands left homeless after the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010.
Health officials here also fear an uptick in fatalities from a cholera outbreak that erupted last October.
The quake ravaged Port-au-Prince, killing more than 220,000 Haitians and leaving 1.2 million homeless,based on official data. Little has been rebuilt since the disaster despite pledges of billions of dollars in foreign aid.
That toll has meanwhile been significantly downgraded in recent weeks by a not-yet released USAID-commissioned report, which contends between 46,000 and 85,000 people were killed in the quake.
Foreign donors were expected to step up efforts to use the roughly $10 billion earmarked for Haiti’s rebuilding following Martelly’s assumption of office, which came after a months-long political and electoral crisis.
© Copyright (c) Reuters
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