PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Hundreds of people fled their homes in a hillside slum of the Haitian capital Friday to escape fierce fighting between gangs that has killed at least 30 people in the past two months, officials said.
Families streamed away from the Grand Ravine slum with mattresses, clothing and whatever else they could recover from their houses — many of which were set on fire by gangs from neighboring slums that are fighting for control of the area.
"I have no money, no house, no idea where I'm going," said Joseline Louis, a 55-year-old fruit seller, as she pushed a cart with her belongings.
Witnesses said at least three people were killed, but United Nations spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said she could not confirm any casualties.
A nearby compound run by the Haitian Evangelical Baptist Union became a makeshift refugee camp for about 300 people. The compound is three miles from Grand Ravine along dusty, windy roads patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers.
Florice Mepolelet, 30, squatted in the corner of the crowded compound with her two young children. She said her family has received only one bowl of rice with bean sauce from the Red Cross since fleeing the neighborhood on Thursday.
Nadia Faneurd, 60, said she and her four children lost all their belongings. "I don't have a house and I'm never going back," she said.
Most houses in the slum — home to several thousand people — appeared abandoned Friday, their tin roofs and concrete block walls blackened by fire. Blood was smeared on the door and the floor of one house.
Gang violence and kidnappings have surged in Haiti after months of relative calm following the election of President Rene Preval in February.
U.N. officials say the coordinated nature of the violence suggests an attempt to stir chaos by well-armed, politically aligned gangs. Many are loyal to ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and demand his return from exile in South Africa.
Danel La Roche, 23, showed a wound in his upper back that he said was from a bullet that came through his window.
"I have nothing to do with this fight," he said.
Peacekeepers did not shoot at the gang members because civilians were in the area, said de la Combe, the U.N. spokeswoman. She said they helped extinguish the fires.
Gangs also fired on U.N. positions in a slum on the northern edge of the Port-au-Prince on Thursday, de la Combe said. No peacekeepers were wounded.