GONAIVES, Haiti – Haitians took to their roofs to escape rising floodwaters for the second time in a week on Sunday as squalls from Hurricane Ike killed 48 people and collapsed a bridge that cut the last land route into the starving city of Gonaives.
Sunday's victims all came in the Cabaret area north of Port-au-Prince, civil defense director Maria-Alta Jean Baptiste said. They pushed Haiti's death toll to at least 306 from four storms that have hit the impoverished Caribbean country in less than a month.
Witnesses in Cabaret said floodwaters rushed into homes in the middle of the night, crushing walls and reaching chest-high levels before receding Sunday morning and leaving everything caked in mud.
In the Always Funeral Home, 21 mud-crusted bodies were piled in a small room, unclaimed. Two of them were pregnant, one still clutching a small girl to her chest.
"We took refuge in one room and waited there all night and prayed," said Sister Marie Denise, who was trapped by waist-high waters in the house she shares with four nuns. They evacuated to the nearby school they run after the waters receded.
"We don't know if one of our girls is among the dead," she said of her students.
The rain had stopped by late afternoon, but authorities feared flooding could continue as water collecting in the mountains continued to run downhill. Much of Gonaives remained inaccessible even to United Nations peacekeepers in trucks because of rising waters and strong currents.
As the peacekeepers delivered aid to the parts of Gonaives they could still reach, scores of young men splashed alongside, begging for help. One called out with a bullhorn: "Hey, hey, my friend. Give me some water."
Food and fuel prices both skyrocketed, with gasoline reaching 500 Haitian gourdes a gallon, or $13 per gallon.
The U.N. beefed up security in Gonaives, which was isolated and pummeled by rains for four days last week during Tropical Storm Hanna. The city was cut off again Sunday when flooding caused the collapse of the Mirebalais bridge in central Haiti.
Relief workers in Gonaives said they had enough emergency food supplies for the next couple of days, but distributing it to the needy became ever more complicated.
A line of 3,000 people snaked around a warehouse-turned-U.N. shelter, and several hundred pushed and shoved to break down the door, only to be quickly subdued by Bolivian troops in riot gear.
Workers spent four hours handing our water and high-protein biscuits. But people were growing tired of relief food and started to demand rice, which has gone up 60 percent in price since the storms.
"We would like to eat some real food," said shelter resident Esaie St. Juste. "Rice, beans, sardines. Haitian people like real food."
Above Haiti's coastal floodplain, in the Artibonite Valley, authorities prepared to open an overflowing dam, inundating more homes and possibly causing lasting damage to Haiti's "rice bowl," a farming area whose revival is key to rescuing the starving country.
"Please evacuate as soon as you can," Agriculture Minister Joanas Gay urged Artibonite residents on state-run Radio Nationale.
Rains also pelted Haiti's northern coast as the storm made its way from the Bahamas west toward Cuba. But a U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator said there were no reports of major flooding, deaths or evacuations there.