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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Taken by the water in Mapou

By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Mapou, Haiti

Last week, Catalina woke up in the middle of the night. It was raining hard and she could not sleep.

An aerial view of Mapou, southern Haiti
The village of Mapou remains almost entirely under water
The mother-of-six knew that the weather had been bad over the last couple of weeks in her village of Mapou but this was much worse.

The rain was torrential and a small river had formed outside her palm-thatched house

By two o'clock in the morning, the whole area outside was flooded.

Catalina decided to leave with her children.

As they headed for higher ground, her two teenage daughters and son fell into the water.

Within seconds they had disappeared.

God protected me
Catalina
Mapou resident

Catalina desperately tried to save them, but she too was swept away.

She managed to avoid drowning by grabbing onto a tree and scrambling to safety.

"God protected me," she told me as, four days later, we stood in the blazing sun outside what remains of her home - just three breeze-block walls.

The house now borders a lake. The lake covers the village where Catalina has spent her entire life.

Its houses, churches, schools and shops are submerged.

One of Catalina's surviving daughters, Marie, was washing some clothes.

I asked her how many people she thought died that Monday night.

She did not offer a number, instead she gave a list of names.

"Madame Ikel, Little Mouch, Marie Salnave, Little Piline, Little Nasson, Delson, Carmen, Bolotte, Regna."

She showed no emotion.

Resigned to suffering

In Mapou, I saw destruction and pain in the extreme, but not a single tear.

All Haitians have endured so much over their lifetimes: extreme poverty, political turmoil, gang violence.

They are accustomed to disaster.

But this natural catastrophe may well have been made worse by man.

The village was surrounded by a high ridge of the Massif de la Salle mountains.


What is most noticeable about the range is that it is almost devoid of trees.

Haitians cook using charcoal and have felled almost all of the timber, thus exposing themselves to landslides in heavy rain.

The ground was already saturated before Monday's storm.

The fresh thick gouges in the hillsides show where, in an instant, the topsoil gave way and millions of gallons of mud and water poured into the valley below.

The town was submerged in around two hours.

Ives Toussaint, a farmer, said he had just minutes to try to get his wife and six children onto the roof of his home before the water took them away.

He failed. All seven drowned.

Marco, a 16-year-old student, told me he watched as his mother, father and cousin were swept away.

"The water took them", he said.

Starting from scratch

These people have lost everything.

All they do now is wait on a windy plateau above their former village for the aid to come.

Every half-an-hour or so, a military helicopter buzzes over this once forgotten corner of Haiti, bringing the basics for survival.

A man carries a sack of rice near Mapou
Food and clean water are now reaching even the more remote areas

Each family is allocated what is considered enough to feed them for a few days.

They struggle away with a large bag of rice donated by the Swiss government and two litres of American mineral water.

One question is beginning to be asked: What should happen to the village when the waters finally recede?

Haitian President Boniface Alexandre has said he thinks it is unacceptable that people should live in such a vulnerable place.

He suggested that maybe they should be forced to move to a safer area.

That may not be a popular solution.

I asked Catalina how she felt when she looked at the flooded remains of her village.

"It's my home," she said.


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