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28422: (news) Chamberlain: Gonaives waits

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

Haiti's Storm-Tossed Brace for New Season

By Stevenson Jacobs

GONAIVES, May 28 (AP) -- Tropical Storm Jeanne blew away Markley Maitre's
concrete-block house in a rush of wind and water, forcing her to dig
through the mud for debris to rebuild.

Now, almost two years later, Maitre, a mother of five, still lives in a
skeletal dwelling of scrap metal and sticks that won't provide much shelter
when the next powerful storm strikes Haiti.

"If we have another storm, I think we're all going to die," she said
outside her home in Gonaives, a seaside city of dirt streets and open
sewers in a region left vulnerable to storms by decades of deforestation.

Jeanne killed about 3,000 people in Gonaives and displaced many more. Today
-- with the start of the new hurricane season just days away -- there is
still a large fetid lake formed by floodwaters on the city's outskirts and
thousands of people crammed into a shantytown that sprang up to house

The dire situation is not unusual in the poorer corners of Latin America
and the Caribbean, where tropical storms and hurricanes often bring death
and destruction on a far greater scale than in more-developed areas with
evacuation routes, modern communications and better drainage.

Wealthy places like the Cayman Islands or high-profile tourist zones like
Cancun, Mexico, have quickly marshaled resources to rebuild after storms in
recent years. It's a far different situation in Haiti, where reconstruction
has been largely left to a few private aid groups, or Guatemala, where
Hurricane Stan last fall brought deadly floods and landslides to remote
communities with few resources.

Last year's Atlantic season saw a record 27 tropical storms, which affected
more than 4 million people and caused damage of more than $7 billion in
Central America and the Caribbean, according to the U.N.-run Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC.

Forecasters say they expect this season will have fewer named storms than
last year but will still be above average.

"We have already started to be on alert," said Evan Thompson, a
meteorologist at the national weather service of Jamaica, where Hurricane
Ivan wiped out crops, destroyed thousands of homes and killed 17 people in
2004. "Most of our population lives along the coast, and there's not many
places you can go to escape the wrath of these systems."

Even with fewer storms, many places in the region could have a devastating
season because of inadequate disaster planning and years of environmental
mismanagement, said Ricardo Zapata-Marti, a natural disaster specialist
with ECLAC.

"The vulnerability has not decreased and the risk has increased," he said,
citing Central America as one of the more vulnerable regions.

Stan struck there last October, unleashing deadly flooding and mudslides
that killed 700 people in Guatemala and left thousands homeless. The storm
also caused havoc in southern Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and
Costa Rica.

But rebuilding alone isn't always enough. The best solution, Zapata-Marti
said, is for those struggling areas to replace their buildings, roads and
drainage systems with more-modern infrastructure that can withstand a
powerful storm.

In places such as Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, that
is simply not an option, at least not in the near future.

"We don't even have funds to pay our employees, so how are we supposed to
prepare for storms?" said Gonaives Mayor Gartha Jacques, who walks to City
Hall because her office doesn't have a budget for a car.

With no aid from the Haitian government, Gonaives has relied on groups such
as CARE and the U.S. Agency for International Development to help rebuild
parts of the city. But the risk remains for thousands of storm survivors
who still live in a muddy, makeshift settlement named Cité Jeanne.

For Maitre, a 32-year-old ice vendor, life only got harder after the storm.
With little work, she has not been able to finish rebuilding her one-room
home, where sunlight pokes through her roof of discarded tin.

"We'd like to have a strong house made of brick, but no one here has money
for that," she said. "When it rains, water comes off of the mountain and
inside the house."

Some in the area have begun building second stories atop crumbling
concrete-block homes, so that they'll have somewhere to go if the water
rises again.

Others say they would like to move farther inland but fear they would lose
their livelihoods, many of which depend on the sea.

"We can't afford to leave," said Charite St. Louis, a 55-year-old fisherman
who lost everything he owned in Jeanne. "Everyone just has to look out for
themselves and pray the next storm doesn't come our way."

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