Haiti takes stock after storms leave a million homeless

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The Independent US

As rolling coverage of Hurricane Ike's arrival in Texas dominated news networks yesterday, its devastating impact on the desperately impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti was still emerging.

The country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, has been battered over the past month by four major storms in succession, killing up to 600 people. Aid workers say they are struggling to reach people as roads are impassable and bridges have collapsed.

Yesterday Haiti's new Prime Minister, Michele Pierre-Louise, who has been in office only a week, declared that as many as one million people, out of a population of around 8.5 million, have been left homeless.

Part of the city of Gonaives, which was worst hit and where most of the deaths occurred, will have to be rebuilt elsewhere, because its existing location is too prone to flooding, she said. "We need major support and it is time for the world to understand that. We've suffered too much in this country."

Yesterday the singer Wyclef Jean, who is of Haitian descent, and the actor Matt Damon visited the town of Cabaret, just north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where 60 people died in flash floods caused by Ike. The pair helped the aid effort by distributing food and medicine.

Disaster first struck Haiti with the arrival of tropical storm Fay last month, followed swiftly by Hurricane Gustav. Two weeks ago tropical storm Hanna hampered relief efforts, before Ike hit the water-logged north-west of the country last weekend.

The exact death toll is unknown, although the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) cited government estimates of more than 500.

According to official figures, at least 11,000 homes in Haiti have been destroyed by the storms. The UN's World Health Organization has warned of a shortage of medical supplies, and has appealed for a $4.2m (£2.3m) aid package. But as ever with humanitarian disasters of this scale, the logistics of distributing aid remain a major obstacle.