October 25, 2008 / 8:07 AM / 11 years ago

Storms among Haiti's worst disasters - UN official

By Joseph Guyler Delva

GONAIVES, Haiti, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Impoverished Haiti is suffering one of the worst catastrophes in its history after the recent onslaught of tropical storms and hurricanes, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief said on Friday.

Four tropical storms and hurricanes that battered the Caribbean nation in August and September — Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — killed more than 800 people and left nearly 1 million homeless or in dire need of help.

Following a visit to the storm-ravaged northern city of Gonaives, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said more needed to be done immediately to improve conditions while promoting sustainable measures to address Haiti’s long-term problems.

"From what I heard before and from what I’ve seen just now, this is a major catastrophe, one of Haiti’s biggest catastrophes probably," Holmes told reporters during a news conference in Gonaives, where storm-triggered floods killed about 500 people.

The storms caused nearly $1 billion damage, according to the World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who made a trip this week to Haiti, where many people living on less than $2 a day.

The poorest country in the Americas, Haiti has struggled with dictatorship, political upheaval and violence since a slave revolt threw off French rule more than two centuries ago.

The damage caused by the storms, coming after deadly riots in April over skyrocketing food prices, has hampered efforts by the current government to build stable democratic institutions and forced emergency appeals for millions of dollars of international aid.

The flooding left thousands of people, including many children, crammed in makeshift shelters and without basics necessities.

"The conditions in some of the shelters are really not good. We need to do more and we need to improve," Holmes said.

During a visit to one of the shelters, Holmes was approached by several flood victims who told him they had not received any food for days and that they wanted help to rebuild their homes or find a decent place to stay.

"The food ration they gave us finished a week ago and we have to go out on the street to beg for something to eat sometimes," Mecitane Cedieu, 50, said.

Many say they are afraid to sleep at night without any sort of security.

"Only God is watching on us at night. It’s all dark and mosquitoes keep eating us," Elida Desir, 49, said.

The World Food Program said it had already distributed food to more than 500,000 people, including 280,000 in Gonaives. But many complain they have not received any food.

Many of Gonaives’ people were still trying to clean mud out of their homes. Weeks after the floods, residents and their personal belongings could still be seen on rooftops and the city was covered with dust.

"I am working hard cleaning, but I am very hungry and sometimes I feel like I am going to faint," said Pierre Andre Bastien, a shovel in his hands as he worked near the main public square. (Editing by Jim Loney)

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