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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
'This was where I used to live'
Eli Saintil and his wife, Marie-Claude, on their roof with four of their seven children
The Saintil family are among the thousands left homeless by floods

Ten days after Hurricane Jeanne unleashed floods on the Haitian city of Gonaives, many of its residents are still living on the roofs above their homes, waiting for the waters to recede.

Eli Saintil, an aid worker with UN food agency the World Food Programme (WFP), and his wife, Marie-Claude, have been living with their seven children on their roof since 18 September.

In all, 26 people are crammed on the roof at 92A rue Christoph in the Cassolet area of Gonaives.

Mr Saintil's WFP colleague Anne Poulsen photographed them and spoke to BBC News Online about their plight.

On Saturday night there was suddenly a flood of five metres (16ft) of water, and they had to rush everyone onto the roof
Anne Poulsen
World Food Programme

"The rain started on the Friday, and was getting higher and higher," she said.

"Then on Saturday night there was suddenly a flood of five metres (16ft) of water, and they had to rush everyone onto the roof.

"They said on the roof they were still standing in water up to their hips.

"Marie-Claude said if Eli hadn't worked so fast, their children would have been swept away with their belongings."

Identity washed away

Ms Poulsen visited the family on the roof more than a week later.

"Marie-Claude took my hand and pointed down to the debris in her home and said 'This was where I used to live'.

"I realised standing there that it was a family's identity that was washed away. There was a very small passport photo of a person up there, and you realised that whatever family photos they had are also gone. All of it was their home, and it was their lives.

"They can be given new things, but it's not their life they're getting back."

A man prepares food on the roof in rue Christoph
Residents on the roof have tried to maintain the routines of daily life

Although the floods are now not very deep, she estimated it would be another week before the Saintils could clean up everything and move back down to their home.

Despite the squalor, such as animal carcasses and sewage in the floodwaters, Ms Poulsen said the residents of 92A seemed to be keeping their rooftop relatively clean.

"In Gonaives in many places, it's complete chaos - there are still trucks flipped over and houses washed away," she said.

"I'm amazed how people try and keep up - women especially - sitting there cleaning their clothes."

Desperate

The aid effort is still being ramped up in Haiti.

The WFP is set to announce an appeal for $5.9m, which it hopes will help it feed 100,000 people for a five-month period.

Already the WFP and its partner, Care, have distributed 254 tons of food in the north of Haiti - mainly to Gonaives but also to areas so remote aid workers have had to load supplies onto mules to get them through.

And although a stretch of road entering Gonaives is still under water, the WFP and other agencies are sending convoys in every day.

"The trucks are working 20 hours a day," Ms Poulsen said. "Everyone's working round the clock to make sure everyone's being fed."

Asked if she recognised reports of disorder and food distribution being disrupted by armed gangs, she said: "I've been to Gonaives several times. Some of the reports I've read don't correspond with what I've seen.

"You have people who are desperate - you cannot blame them for being desperate. You can't blame them for using whatever means they can to feed themselves."

She said at no time did she feel in danger, or that the city was out of control.

"At a distribution point yesterday, women were lining up as quietly as you can believe," she said.

"They divided up food among themselves and went away carrying their bags, smiling."


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