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U.N. Tries to Stem Looting in Haiti

The United Nations (search) rushed hundreds more peacekeepers to storm-ravaged Gonaives (search) to stem looting, while hundreds of weary Haitians lined up for food before daybreak Monday after spending a miserable night in the rain from Tropical Storm Jeanne (search).

The Brazilian general in charge of the U.N. force criticized the slow pace of relief that is compounding the suffering of traumatized survivors. At least 1,500 were killed and some 200,000 are homeless in Gonaives.

"The situation remains critical," Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira said in an interview with the official Agencia Brasil. Uruguayan troops were guarding road into town to keep looters from stealing food.

He said many people were suffering from diarrhea while others, many of them children, were contracting gangrene. Amputations were being performed under horrendous conditions, he said. Most injuries being treated are gashes from collapsing roofs or pieces of zinc roof hidden by the mud that still covers the city, where most survivors walk barefooted.

At a school where Argentine Army doctors have set up a makeshift hospital, patients howled their anguish Sunday — women giving birth, children hobbling on feet oozing pus and a man whose leg was being amputated, apparently without anesthetic.

Anne Poulsen of the U.N. World Food Program (search) said relief agencies were working around the clock trying to get food to victims — even using donkeys.

When trucks carrying 8 tons of food from Cap-Haitien — the port to the north — were blocked by mudslides, "we unloaded the food from trucks and put it on to donkeys and mules to reach localities ... where people had not eaten for a week" since the storm's passage, Poulsen said.

WFP and CARE International distributed 120 tons of food in the past three days — enough to feed 48,000 families for one day, she said.

The director of the WFP Haiti operation, Guy Gavreau, said floods from Jeanne destroyed the rice and fruit harvest in the Artibonite, Haiti's breadbasket, "so now the country can't even feed itself without outside help."

Outside three food distributions centers, scores of people gathered hours before aid workers were to arrive, in hopes they would be the first to get food.

Market vendor Reine Francois, 46, spent the night huddled on the wall of her home covered by a tarpaulin as lightning bolts lit the sky over the blacked-out city and it rained again, turning to sludge the foot of water and mud she has been trying to shovel out of her home for two days.

"Every time we try to get our lives back, it keeps raining," she said.

Thousands spent the rainy night on sidewalks and rooftops of flooded homes.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue (search) said the government was drawing up plans to evacuate some of the 300,000 left homeless in Haiti's northwest province to a massive tent camp. Some victims, fearing the spread of disease, said they would abandon the city, Haiti's third-largest with 250,000 residents.

On Saturday, Latortue said the storm killed at least 1,500 people.

On Sunday, the civil defense agency's Abel Nazaire said more bodies were recovered from debris in Gonaives, raising the number of corpses found to 1,330. Another 2,601 people were injured, and 1,056 are missing.

Nazaire acknowledged many of the missing can be presumed dead — washed out to sea or under the rubble of collapsed homes in areas still inaccessible.

Some 300,000 people are homeless from the storm, including about 200,000 in Gonaives, he said.

Planeloads of aid have arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but getting it to Gonaives is a nine-hour nightmare drive with the final leg of the route covered by a 4-foot-deep lake of mud littered with mired aid trucks.

A truck that managed to get through Sunday morning was looted by desperate residents. They threw out packets of water, sending children in the streets dodging other aid trucks to grab the precious loot.

Argentine soldiers finally shoved people screaming, "We're hungry!" back from the truck.

Poulsen confirmed that a convoy of trucks carrying government relief supplies was held up Saturday on the outskirts of Gonaives by men armed with guns and machetes.

Aid workers say street gangs that long have held sway in the city are mobbing relief workers and stealing aid.

About 100 Uruguayan soldiers and 50 Argentine troops arrived Sunday to reinforce about 600 U.N. peacekeepers in Gonaives. They remained on the outskirts Monday, guarding the road.