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Emergency aid expected to reach stranded Haitians, says UN agency

Emergency aid expected to reach stranded Haitians, says UN agency

Jacmel in southeast Haiti was hit hard by Hurricane Gustav
The United Nations food agency expects to be able to send emergency assistance today to Haitians stranded in the flooded northern city of Gonaïves, which was battered by Tropical Storm Hanna on Monday night.

After days of waiting for the vicious rainstorm to subside, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) can now sail a boat out of the capital, Port-au-Prince, carrying food and personnel to the previously inaccessible port town.

Haiti, already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been devastated by three deadly storms, Fay, Gustav and Hanna, in less than a month, and two others, Ike and Josephine, are fast approaching.

Hurricane Gustav left at least 76 dead and thousands displaced, destroying homes, livestock and crops primarily in the south and west of the impoverished Caribbean country and forcing some 7,000 people into shelters.

WFP, the world’s biggest aid organization, was distributing food to Gustav victims and evaluating the humanitarian impact of the hurricane when Hanna struck Gonaïves in the north and the number of casualties is feared to be high.

“Right when humanitarian assistance was reaching affected communities in the south, tropical storm Hanna arrived and again blocked roads and created lots of problems,” said WFP Representative in Haiti, Myrta Kaulard, in an interview with UN Radio.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, and other UN agencies were eventually able to reach Gonaïves using speed boats to deliver some humanitarian aid, but a ship loaded with WFP and UNICEF supplies has been sitting idle for two days because of the weather.

“All roads able to access Gonaïves are cut, either by bridges that have collapsed, by trees that have fallen down, or by waters that have washed way parts of the streets,” said Ms. Kaulard.

MINUSTAH also hope that their helicopters are able to transport UN personnel today to start distributing aid and providing humanitarian assistance to the marooned population in Gonaïves. Some residents have been stranded on the rooftops of their homes.

“We are bringing in 50 metric tons of water, 19 metric tons of biscuits. We are bringing water purification tablets. We are bringing trucks, cars and boats to help with the evacuation of the people and the transport of this food and water to the population,” added Ms. Kaulard.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that preliminary information indicates that damage caused by Hanna is more extensive than that of Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, which decimated the city and left around 2,500 dead or missing.

“The hurricane season is far from over, several storms have already hit the country, each of them aggravating the damage left by the previous one,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti, Annamaria Laurini.

UNICEF said in a press release yesterday that it is stepping up its assistance to an initial 15,000 Haitians affected by the three successive storms, but as the emergency teams begin to reach currently inaccessible areas, this number is bound to increase.