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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Eyewitness: Amid Haiti's filth and grief
An upturned car in Gonaives, Haiti
People's belongings were swept away by the flood
Maite Alvarez works for Oxfam GB in Haiti as a communications officer. She has just visited the town of Gonaives - the area worst-hit by the recent storms and flooding. Here is her account of what she saw:

The air in Gonaives is potent and oppressive. The corpses of animals float in rivers of mud. Outside the morgue, the piles of dead bodies continue to rise.

There is half a metre of stagnant and polluted water throughout the city centre, but there is no safe, drinking water.

People struggle to salvage what they can find among the debris.

Others crowd into the cathedral, which doubles as a temporary shelter, and pray.

Madame Sirus in Gonaives, Haiti
We have no toilets and no water to clean ourselves with. This place is covered in mud, smells of urine and excrement
Madame Sirus
Louna Registe was widowed by the storm.

"My husband died while trying to save the children," she says.

She tearfully tells the story of how she and her six children survived by climbing on a rooftop.

"At one point there were 80 of us up there. We could see many people struggling to stay alive and not drown. There were many children crying and women screaming. It was a nightmare," she says.

Now she is left with nothing.

"I lost my house and all my belongings. We only have the clothes that we are wearing," she says. "We are hungry and I have nothing to feed the children."

People shout at aid workers and journalists pleading for food and water. Relief efforts by NGOs and the United Nations are under way, but the needs are enormous and will last for months.

The city is palpably tense as people grow more desperate for food and water.

Stream of injured

"We know [the contaminated] water is bad for us, that we should wash our hands and that we should use latrines, but what can we do? We are thirsty, there is no running water and our homes are completely destroyed," says Dieuvies Petithomme.

Another woman, Madame Sirus says: "We have no toilets and no water to clean ourselves with. This place is covered in mud, smells of urine and excrement."

The conditions are ripe for an outbreak of water-borne diseases. Infections can be easily transmitted due to the rotting corpses of animals and humans, forcing authorities to bury the remains in mass graves.

A local university has become the operational headquarters for aid agencies. Argentine medics attached to the UN peacekeeping mission treat the stream of injured who come in with broken bones, cuts and skin infections.

Amid the filth and grief, many women try to sweep the mud out of those homes left standing. They make feverish attempts to wash their clothes with dirty water, and set them to dry on the side of the road.


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