By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept 8 (Reuters) - United Nations humanitarian agencies and other groups are struggling to help Haiti’s flood victims after storms that killed hundreds of people and isolated broad swaths of the impoverished Caribbean country.
The deputy director for the World Food Program in Haiti, Romain Sirois, said on Monday efforts to feed several hundred thousand people made homeless by the tropical cyclones could still fall tragically short.
"We need some 25,000 tons of supplies, including 16,000 tons of rice, to help feed the affected population over the next six months. But we only have 3,500 tons in stock," Sirois told Reuters.
"We have launched an interagency appeal to find more supplies because so many people need our help."
The misery that has rained down on Haiti comes at a difficult time for President Rene Preval, who has been trying to establish a stable democracy in Haiti. The country has known little but political upheaval and dictatorship since a slave revolt ended French rule more than 200 years ago.
It was only last Friday that Haitian lawmakers finally approved the installation of a new government to replace one dismissed in April over violent food protests in the poorest country in the Americas.
Sirois said his agency has 3,500 tons of food supplies in stock to assist flood and mudslide victims around the country, which was hit by four successive storms and hurricanes -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- in less than a month.
But the World Food Program will soon face shortages as it races to hand out supplies such as rice, high energy biscuits, enriched soy flour, cooking oil and beans.
The European Union and the U.S. Agency for International Development have provided millions of dollars in assistance.
But only about 10 tons of food supplies have been distributed so far in hard-hit Gonaives, a low-lying port where several maritime shipments are expected over the next few days, according to the WFP.
At least 80 percent of the estimated 300,000 people in Gonaives have been displaced or otherwise affected by Hanna and Ike. The latter dumped torrential rains on Haiti on Monday as it passed over warm waters off the country’s northern coast as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
Several bridges have been washed out, making the roads leading to affected areas impassable.
"Road inaccessibility and the succession of storms have made it very difficult for us to deliver the assistance," Sirois said.
Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis said 60 U.S. military engineers were being dispatched to Haiti to help rebuild roads and other infrastructure. The United States was also sending boats and helicopters to bolster relief efforts, Pierre-Louis told reporters, adding that France, Canada, Spain and Venezuela had also promised assistance.
Eight U.S. military helicopters and three landing craft based aboard the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge arrived off Haiti’s coast to identify suitable sites for the distribution of aid, the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command said.
Pierre-Louis said the United States and Venezuela had also pledged to provide military-style, pontoon bridges to replace those destroyed by floods.
But the distribution of aid will need to be swift.
The official death toll from the four storms in Haiti is 328. But police sources and local authorities say as many as 700 people died, including at least 495 killed by Hanna in Gonaives. (Editing by Tom Brown)