GONAIVES, Haiti – A ship carrying 33 tons of U.N. relief supplies managed to dock Friday, the first significant aid delivery after four days without food or water for thousands of survivors from Tropical Storm Hanna.
Soldiers with assault rifles stood guard in the crumbling port while dockworkers offloaded 15 metric tons of relief supplies from the capital of Port-au-Prince. The container ship was loaded with bottled water, 36,000 water-purification tablets, 16 metric tons of high-energy biscuits and two metric tons of rice, along with cooking oil and other supplies managed by the U.N.'s World Food Program.
Belching white smoke from its stack, the Tres Rivieres ship was able to dock after the Argentine soldiers worked through the night with heavy equipment to drop boulders into a gap in the pier left by the storm. They aimed to distribute the biscuits and water within hours to emergency shelters where 40,000 people were marooned and increasingly desperate.
Hanna's floodwaters inundated more than half the homes in Haiti's fourth-largest city when it struck on Monday, and corpses surfaced in the muddy wreckage Friday as floodwaters receded, raising the known death toll to 137.
But the break in the weather is expected to be short — Hurricane Ike, now a Category 3 hurricane — could sideswipe Haiti this weekend, even as international aid groups struggle to reach thousands of victims.
"I am worried because the soil is completely impregnated with water and there is no way for the rivers to take more water," said Max Cocsi, who directs Belgium's mission in Haiti of Doctors Without Borders. "We don't need a hurricane — a storm would be enough."
Cocsi, who arrived in Gonaives on Thursday, told The Associated Press that no one knows how many have been killed. The focus now is on reaching the living, not recovering bodies.
Haiti's government has few resources to help. Rescue convoys have been blocked by floodwaters. U.S. government aid was on its way — a U.S. plane from Miami on Thursday delivered enough relief supplies for 20,000 people to the capital, much of which was brought to Gonaives by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and two helicopters for distribution Friday.
These shipments — including health kits, plastic sheeting and water jugs — will be followed by more aid as soon as they figure out how to get it in, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mari Tolliver said. "It will be based on where need is greatest," she said. "We're trying every avenue."
All land access into Gonaives was cut by the storm, with bridges collapsed, roads washed out and trees fallen down, U.N. food agency representative Myrta Kaulard said. So the U.N. peacekeeping mission was also hoping that its helicopters could take more U.N. personnel along to begin handing out aid, which includes 19 tons of biscuits, 50 tons of water, and water purification tablets.
The relief group Oxfam said it will provide 500 nonfood item kits and 1,000 5-gallon bottles of drinking water to families in Gonaives over the weekend.
"Food supplies and water are scarce and the price of the ood that's left is rising," said Parnell A. Denis, Oxfam's representative in Gonaives. "The morale of people staying in tfhe shelters is so very low. I am afraid to tell them that another storm is on its way."
At least 102 of the Haitians who died were in Gonaives and its surroundings, officials said. Some 250,000 people are affected in the Gonaives region and 54,000 people are living shelters across the country, according to government estimates. The storm also killed at least two people in Puerto Rico.
Gonaives — a collection of concrete buildings, run-down shacks and plazas with dilapidated fountains — lies in a flat river plain between the ocean and deforested mountains that run with mud even in light rains. Hanna swirled over Haiti for four days, dumping vast amounts of water, blowing down fruit trees and ruining stores of food.
Many houses were torn apart. Families huddled on rooftops, their possessions laid out to dry. Overturned cars were everywhere, and televisions floated in the brown water.
In the capital, Tolliver said $250,000 in relief supplies arrived in Haiti Thursday, and another $100,000 will be used to buy bedding, kitchen items and other goods for victims.
"The situation in Gonaives is catastrophic," Daniel Rouzier, Haiti chairman of Food for the Poor, wrote in an e-mail. "We, just like the rest of the victims ... have limited mobility. You can't float a boat, drive a truck or fly anything to the victims."