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Severe Flooding In Haiti

Port-au-Prince, September 22, 2004 - Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has mobilized to assist people overwhelmed by severe flooding in the city of Gonaives, on Haiti's northwest coast.

According to an assessment carried out Sunday, the water level in downtown Gonaives reached four feet (1.20 meters) and 80% of the city's 108,000 people have been affected. During the assessment, medical staff from MSF and other organizations treated 380 people, mainly for fractures and cuts caused by falling objects and roofs.

"Some parts of the city are still completely underwater. Other parts can now be reached by foot, but huge amounts of mud and remaining water make all movements extremely difficult," said Silvien Auerbach, MSF Head of Mission in Haiti. "A large number of homes have been seriously damaged, or completely ruined. There is not a single operational health facility left. The hospital is unusable, as all medical equipment has been destroyed."

An MSF emergency medical team composed of two international volunteers and three national staff from Port-au-Prince have brought emergency materials to treat more wounded and help meet people's water and sanitation needs.

The team has identified a health center on the west side of the city, which will serve as a base for patient consultations. "After a rapid rehabilitation of the facility, we plan to bring more medical equipment and supplies from Port-au-Prince," said Auerbach. "The main priority now is to identify the most urgent cases should be referred to existing health facilities elsewhere in Haiti, possibly Saint-Marc and the capital Port-au-Prince."

The primary humanitarian needs are health, shelter, and access to food and water. Although there have been no epidemic outbreaks at this stage, there is still a risk of waterborne diseases.

Later in the week, the team should be reinforced by four more international volunteers: one psychologist, one doctor, one nurse, and one logistician who specializes in water and sanitation.

Other parts of Haiti's northeast region have also been affected by the flooding, but too a much lesser extend than Gonaives. "Some villages around the city of Port-de-Paix have also been hit," Auerbach said. "But the medical situation in Gonaives means we need to intervene there fast."