Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent
Friday September 5 2008
Haiti was reeling last night from a series of tropical storms which devastated crops and infrastructure and left bodies floating in flooded towns. Three storms in three weeks unleashed "catastrophe" and submerged much of the impoverished Caribbean nation, said President Rene Preval. A fourth storm, Ike, was gathering force in the Atlantic and could strike next week.
More than 120 people have died, thousands are homeless and agriculture and transport networks have been washed away, prompting calls for emergency international aid.
"There are a lot of people who have been on top of the roofs of their homes over 24 hours now," the interior minister, Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, told Reuters. "They have no water, no food and we can't even help them."
Haiti, vulnerable because of its flimsy dwellings and soil erosion, has been the worst affected by the tempests that have battered the Caribbean and US Gulf coast. Parts of Cuba have also been devastated, prompting Fidel Castro to compare the impact to a nuclear attack.
With roads impassable and winds too strong for helicopters, UN peacekeepers reached the city on inflatable boats. They found hundreds of survivors clinging to rooftops, begging for water and food - women on balconies waved empty pots and spoons.
"I lost everything, even the baby's clothes," Jezula Preval, one of 1,500 people huddled in the a desolate shelter nicknamed the "Haiti Hilton", told the Associated Press. She gave birth to a healthy boy on Tuesday, after floodwaters swallowed her house.
Patients in a flooded hospital had crowded into an upper floor room. At the church about 100 people huddled on a balcony, waiting for the water to recede.
"There is no food, no water, no clothes," said the pastor, Arnaud Dumas. "I want to know what I'm supposed to do ... we haven't found anything to eat in two, three days. Nothing at all."
Cuba was also counting the cost yesterday. Officials said the onslaught from Gustav in the western province of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth was equivalent to the past 14 storms combined.
Effective organisation minimised loss of life in Cuba, but could not save property. Forecasters do not know if Ike, a category four storm advancing from the east, will make landfall. With winds of 140mph it could be disastrous. Ike is the third major hurricane of the Atlantic season, which runs from June to November.