Survivors mourn the dead of a vanished village

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Dominoes used to dominate lazy Sunday afternoons in Mapou as players sat in the shade and villagers gathered at the marketplace to grumble over a glass of rum about stunted crops or cheating wives.

Dominoes used to dominate lazy Sunday afternoons in Mapou as players sat in the shade and villagers gathered at the marketplace to grumble over a glass of rum about stunted crops or cheating wives.

Now, the market is under water and voices that once rang out have been silenced. Some of their corpses float nearby, one week after deadly floods cascaded from denuded mountains.

Many better-off residents, who lived in concrete houses financed by small businesses or remittances, survived the disaster that has killed at least 1,500 people along the south-central border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The poor who died will be remembered only as faint memories from the vanished village.

"I remember Madame Roget," says Denis Phillipe, 44, a bread salesman, recalling a woman famed for the griot, or marinated pork, that she sold. "But no one has seen her. Many of the people who lived in the mud houses are just gone." Despite scorching sun in the past week, the area is submerged in 20 feet of stagnant water rank with the smell of death. Outside the village the scent of fresh mint fills the air and farmers, in despair over battered rows of corn, queue for food handouts from aid workers and American, Canadian and Chilean soldiers in an American-led multinational force.

"We heard that the man who used to sell mangoes died," said Denis Jean-Baptiste, 37. "I can't remember his name but everyone knew his face - he was missing most of his teeth."

Before the floods, villagers eked out a living growing mint, corn and coffee. Some worked as seasonal sugar cane cutters in the Dominican Republic, where more than a third of the deaths occurred, most of them working to send money home. Many in Mapou speak Spanish, the language of the Dominican Republic, as well as Haiti's official Creole and French.

Philis Milfort, 87, lost eight relatives who had helped support him since he lost a leg to gangrene three years ago. "My leg is gone, my animals are gone, my house is gone and my family is gone," Mr Milfort said. "The village is cursed by disaster."

In 1998, Hurricane Georges tore through Mapou, leaving scores dead and destroying the village's handful of buildings, some of which had not been repaired when the floods hit.

Haitian villages are, typically, poor and there is no electricity or piped water. Forced to cook with charcoal, people chop down trees from the nearby mountains, leaving little to impede the torrents of water, gravel and boulders that flooded the valley.

Residents said one of their voodoo temples was built from wood collected nearby. Sinustal Jean, 76, said it disappeared along with its houngan, or priest, who is among hundreds missing from the population of about 3,000.

Another gathering place was the market, where women vendors hunched over piles of onions while men played dominoes. Montero Saint-Louis, 46, said: "People used to have a rum or a beer and complain about their crops or talk about how they thought their wives were seeing someone else. It was the place everyone went. Now there's no place to go."

Dozens of bodies are trapped in the water. Troops and aid workers have focused on getting food and water to the living. Without inflatable boats and more manpower, many bodies may remain for days to come.

If families do not collect the corpses - quite possible since many worked across the border - pictures of the bodies will be posted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has set up a makeshift hospital on the edge of a dirt trail outside the village.

Haiti's interim leaders are considering resettling residents instead of rebuilding in a valley that is prone to such disaster.

"Until then, we will have to wait to see what God will decide should happen to this town," said Mr Milfort. "It's in his hands now."

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