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Letter from Gonaives

September 2004

Dear Friends,

As we are sure most of you have heard, Haiti has been battered by yet another natural catastrophe as Tropical Storm Jeanne passed by the island over the weekend of 17 – 19 September 2004. Initial reports are devastating, with the official preliminary estimate of dead currently set at 600, with more than 500 dead in Gonaïves, more than 60 in Port-de-Paix and 7 in Pilate. Hundreds more are still unaccounted for. The storm passed over the northern part of the country, causing astronomical damage to the North, North West and Upper Artibonite departments.

The extent of the damage and the number of communities affected is still unknown. Entire roads have been washed out, isolating entire villages and making visits to affected areas extremely difficult. News coverage of the situation is mostly focused on Gonaïves where they say at least 80% of the homes and buildings in the town have been completely flooded.

In response to the situation, on Monday morning, 20 September 2004 NCHR and POHDH immediately began organizing a delegation to travel to the Upper Artibonite and the North West departments in the coming days. The purpose of the delegation will be three-fold: 1) to survey / document the overall damage of the storm; 2) to provide some immediate material assistance in the form of toiletries and food supplies to victims, and 3) to determine NCHR / POHDH’s role in responding to the crisis.

Both NCHR and POHDH are extremely concerned about those individuals who were being detained in police custody at the time of the flooding. For example, in Gonaïves, if cells doors were not unlocked when the flood waters came, it is most likely that all those in custody drowned in their cells. Furthermore, for those who survived, the chances of family members being killed in the floods are high meaning that there is no one to look after their immediate needs.

The interim government has yet to announce the amount and/or type of aid to be distributed but has declared the next three (3) days national days of mourning.

We will be sure to keep you informed once more information has been gathered and the NCHR/POHDH team has returned.

Once again Haiti needs your prayers.

In solidarity,

NCHR staff

Pierre Esperance


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