World

Haiti death toll nears 900; many more have no relief in sight

A man carried wooden planks salvaged from the rubble of homes in Jeremie, Haiti.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

A man carried wooden planks salvaged from the rubble of homes in Jeremie, Haiti.

LES CAYES, Haiti — At least 470 people were found dead in a single district of Haiti’s southwest region, civil defense officials said Saturday, as the country’s estimated death toll from Hurricane Matthew rose to nearly 900.

While shipments of food and medicine are on the way by land and sea, aid workers estimate that a half-million people along Haiti’s southern coast have still had not been reached by rescuers on Saturday, three days after Matthew hit as a Category 4 storm.

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In areas where relief efforts have begun, about 64,000 people are being housed in schools and other shelters, according to a person briefed by government and UN relief coordinators.

Cholera cases have spiked, including in towns that are cut off, said Sean Casey, an emergency response team leader for the International Medical Corps who is working in Les Cayes.

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‘‘A few people have walked out saying there are a lot of cases and people are dying,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re really concerned about cholera.’’

UN officials said the agency’s Central Emergency Response Fund was releasing $5 million to help Haiti. Earlier this week, the fund released a loan of $8 million to UNICEF to boost response to Haiti’s cholera problem.

Fridnel Kedler, the coordinator of the Civil Protection Agency in the district of Grand-Anse, told the Associated Press on Saturday at least 470 people have died in that district, and rescuers have not been able to reach two other communities.

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A Reuters count of deaths reported by the Civil Protection Agency and local officials put the toll at 877 on Saturday, although reliable information is scarce because of poor communications and isolated terrain.

At the Liliane Mars Dumarsais Estime in Les Cayes, the misery was palpable.

Ginette Jean-Claude, who gave birth two days before the hurricane struck only to learn her husband was swept away in the flood, has spent the past week raising her newborn son on a wooden bench in a classroom.

Down the hallway, a fourth-grader who attended the school sleeps on its concrete floors crammed alongside more than 1,000 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

During the day, the storm refugees pass a plastic cup to raise money for chlorine to keep cholera at bay.

At night, bandits have descended on the school, where no police or local security stand guard, throwing rocks through the windows and ripping away the meager supplies of food.

‘‘They said they’re going to come back and rape the women,’’ said Bosman Cindy, a 10th-grader who has collected rainwater off the roof for survival and doesn’t know whether her father is alive.

On Friday afternoon, a food truck pulled into the school’s courtyard, followed by a crowd that had been chasing it down the street. People poured out of the classrooms, pleading for help.

These newly homeless people living this precarious existence in the Liliane Mars Dumarsais Estime school are among the hundreds of thousands across Haiti’s southwestern peninsula now grappling with upended livelihoods and no relief in sight.

‘‘It’s very critical now,’’ said Jean Alexi, 23, who has slept at the school since Monday night. ‘‘The kids are not being taken care of and could easily get diseases.’’

The Haitian government’s response has been slow to arrive in Les Cayes, the biggest city on the southwestern coast, and the devastated villages around it. The mayor’s office has dispatched some food trucks, and candidates for the presidential election, scheduled for Sunday but postponed by the storm, have made personal donations.

Western aid groups have given medical supplies to hospitals and clinics and have begun assessing needs in areas still marooned from the rest of the country by washed-out bridges and downed trees.

While larger shipments of food and medicine by land and sea are on the way, aid workers estimate that a half-million people along the southern coast have still not been reached by outsiders.

Outside of a municipal warehouse on Friday, dozens of people pleaded for food while staff loaded up trucks with bags of rice, spaghetti and cooking oil for delivery elsewhere.

Many people, including in the government, acknowledge that the needs far outstrip the available supplies.

‘‘The whole town is destroyed,’’ said Emmanuel Pierre, an aide to the mayor of Les Cayes. ‘‘Sixty to 70 percent of the roofs are gone. The population wasn’t prepared for this.’’

The people taking refuge at Dumarsais Estime are sleeping more than 100 per classroom, cooking over charcoal whatever food is donated or scavenged, hanging their clothes to dry on a fallen tree in the flooded courtyard. All of those interviewed said their homes were destroyed or severely damaged by hurricane winds and flooding.

‘‘It’s very critical now,’’ said Jean Alexi, 23, who has slept at the school since Monday night. ‘‘The kids are not being taken care of and could easily get diseases.’’

Food is scarce at the school. Only one truckload of rice and oil had arrived so far, people said. On Friday afternoon, another food truck pulled into the school’s courtyard, followed by a crowd that had been chasing it down the street. People poured out of the classrooms, pleading for help.

Ginette Jean-Claude, 30, gave birth on Saturday to a son, Yonelson. On Monday night, her neighbors carried them both out of her flooded house to the school. Her husband, Yonel Exama, did not survive the storm, she said. After nearly a week in a dirty classroom at the back of the school, the infant had developed a rash on his face.

‘‘And his stomach is aching, he cries a lot,’’ Jean-Claude said as she breast-fed her son.

Her neighbors have given her baby powder and blankets to drape over the wooden bench where she has been sleeping. Jean-Claude herself hasn’t had much to eat, and her strength is flagging.

‘‘I have no place to go to,’’ she said.

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