By MICHAEL NORTON Associated Press Writer
FONDS VERRETTES, Haiti (AP) _ Electricity had not arrived in this isolated Haitian town, so when a surge of water, mud and debris crashed through the streets last week, it did so in total darkness.``Boom-boom-boom. It sounded like cannon salvoes,'' said Cantave Brevil, who fled with his wife and eight children in the nick of time.The mighty wave, another of Hurricane Georges' ravages in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, lifted houses off their foundations and foundations off the ground.It wiped most of Fonds Verrettes off the face of the earth, killing at least 85 people. Many more are feared dead.``The town is finished, dead. It's reached the point of no return,'' said Brevil, 39. ``Now we live in exile in our homeland.''The official nationwide death toll from Georges, including that of Fonds Verrettes, stood at 150, with at least 40 still missing. In all, the storm killed at least 407 people last week.Fonds Verrettes, 50 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince, was built in harm's way, at the bottom of a river bed.Rains began falling on the afternoon of Sept. 22, when Georges was pounding the neighboring Dominican Republic. After midnight, a seven-foot wave roared through the town, demolishing the stone and cement-block buildings and sweeping scores of drowned bodies downstream.All that is left now where the town once stood are mounds of white gravel.The torrent gouged deep trenches on each side of the 500-foot-wide river bed. The cemetery teetered, and tombs fell into the stream and were carried away.City Hall and the telephone exchange are gone. The gutted, roofless hulk of the La Croix Catholic church stands on slightly higher ground.Brevil's case is typical. The 27,000 inhabitants of the town had little before the storm and now have even less. Brevil lost his home, belongings, crops and livestock, as well as several relatives.He and his family sought shelter at a friend's house _ along with 50 other hurricane victims.``Some people can't even tell you where their house was,'' said Julien Zetren, 42, a public school principal.Years ago, wooded mountains surrounded Fonds Verrettes. As farm incomes fell, impoverished peasants cut down the trees to make charcoal.The deforestation meant that the full brunt of the Hurricane Georges' torrential rains swept down into the town.
``If the authorities had built a canal, this wouldn't have happened,'' said Zetren.Fonds Verrettes was hard hit twice in the past, by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and Tropical Storm Gordon in 1994, yet authorities did not order an evacuation as powerful Georges bore down last week. On Monday and Tuesday, the government sent two helicopters and a health ministry vehicle with emergency food aid.Provisions were meager: 24 100-pound sacks of rice, 27 sacks of flour, and 65 pints of drinking water.``In every other country, a hand is held out at once. Tents and food are distributed. Not here,'' said Zetren.A government delegation is scheduled to arrive in Fonds Verrettes today to evaluate the damage. In the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, seven U.S. congressmen and U.S. Agency for International Development officials arrived Wednesday to announce a $47 million aid package for the Dominican Republic and Haiti _ the two countries most affected by the hurricane.The congressmen, accompanied by U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Brian Atwood and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, flew on to Haiti later Wednesday to tour hurricane damage and to pledge $12 million to restart USAID programs.``People in this country have suffered so much and so long that it seems particularly unjustified that they have had to suffer through this storm,'' Atwood said.
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