[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]


From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>


By David Gonzalez
New York Times News Service
April 29, 2000
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Survivors of a shipwreck that stranded more than 250
Haitians on a barren island of the Bahamas 200 miles southeast of here said
Friday that they had fled Haiti aboard a stolen boat in a desperate attempt
to escape the mounting violence that has swept through their homeland as
elections approach.
The journey that some said was motivated by the recent murder of a prominent
radio commentator and government critic and which began about a week ago,
became doomed within days of leaving Haiti, the survivors said.
They quickly ran out of gas, food and water. Some were forced to drink
seawater, they said, making them even weaker. Finally their drifting,
50-foot sailboat sank off Flamingo Cay, a small island where they were
discovered on Wednesday night.
Although several of the 222 survivors who arrived here Friday aboard a
Bahamian naval vessel said that as many as 18 of their comrades died during
the journey, the figure could not be confirmed.
Bahamian authorities said only two deaths could be verified and that several
dozen others had been hospitalized and treated for dehydration and kidney
But it was the everyday deaths back in Haiti that still preoccupied the
"We were in misery," said Francisco Martinez, a Haitian whose parents were
from the Dominican Republic. "The chiefs in Haiti are killing people. They
burn down houses."
Wednesday night's discovery of hundreds of stranded Haitians comes after
more than 300 other Haitians were rescued by Bahamian authorities in two
previous incidents in the last week. The surge in boats packed with illegal
immigrants coursing through Bahamian waters on their way to Florida has led
local officials to increase aerial surveillance, but they are alarmed
because they cannot handle a continued, large influx on their own.
A Bahamian immigration official said his government would repatriate the
latest group "as soon as possible." Joseph Etienne, a Haitian diplomat in
Nassau said his government was taking steps to discourage any further
illegal immigration.
Some of the survivors said they were active in electoral campaigns and had
received death threats and had gone into hiding. Others said the increasing
instability was too much to bear.
"We ran," said Jonas Louis, a fisherman from Arcahaie. "We hid in places
before we robbed the boat."
He said that he and five others spotted a boat whose crew had gone ashore to
eat. Quickly, they stole it and took off to herd dozens of passengers on
board. The boat, which had a small outboard motor as well as a sail, ran out
of fuel within two days of leaving. The seas were rough, and water was
leaking into the boat, which drifted toward Flamingo Cay. Without water or
food, the situation grew desperate.
"We drank water from the sea," Louis said. "Some people died because they
could not stand it. I cannot say how many."
Bahamian officials who interviewed the Haitians said they waded ashore from
their crippled boat. There, they were spotted on Wednesday night by several
passing sailboats. In quick order, a joint U.S.-Bahamian rescue effort was
under way. Brian Dudas, a Coast Guard medical corpsman, flew into Flamingo
Cay on Wednesday night to find a sole Bahamian Defense Force member dressed
in camouflage standing watch on the beach.
"He was just trying to keep order," Dudas said. "From what I saw, everybody
was just laid out on the beach, just pretty much crashed out."
He helped load the most seriously ill Haitians onto a helicopter, but he
said that the scene quickly grew unruly as more healthy people tried to
climb on board. "I was like pushing people out of the helicopter just before
we took off," he said.
By Thursday, more than 200 dazed and desperate Haitians were still on the
island, clearly visible as Coast Guard Lt. Chuck Bell maneuvered his Jayhawk
helicopter over the white sands. Clothes and people were scattered among the
rocks and shrubs, while others huddled under a makeshift tent, rescuers had
built from tarpaulins, sticks and branches.
"It was unreal," Bell said. "You flew over, and you could see the boat they
came in on. The water here is crystal clear, and you could see the boat
submerged with its mast sticking out. On the beach, there were massive
amounts of people with clothes and blankets everywhere."