Haiti trapped in inescapable muck

The U.N. World Food Program's director flew to a Haitian city still encased in mud Friday to draw global attention to the ongoing disaster that has enormously complicated the country's struggle to feed itself.

The WFP said it has asked for $54 million to help Haiti recover from four killer storms but has received only $1 million. Beginning a two-day survey of the disaster area, Executive Director Josette Sheeran said “concerted global action” is needed as local officials say famine looms.

Haitian President Rene Preval pleaded for help, asking for long-term assistance Friday in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Devastation awaited Sheeran in this coastal city, largely cut off from the rest of Haiti because of flooded roads and wrecked bridges. Gray mud is still piled waist-high in homes, coating prized television sets, books and cooking pots. Tens of thousands still live in shelters and roam muddy streets looking for food.

At least 194 people were killed by the tropical storms in less than a month this summer in Gonaives and the surrounding region, the largest share of a nationwide death toll of 425.

Some of the muck is topsoil – precious in this deforested country – flushed from the mountains above when a river broke its banks, churned through the countryside and sliced through town before emptying into the sea.

Clouds of mosquitoes breed in Gonaives' wet ground, raising fears of disease. Children play in the muck. In a hospital, mud immobilizes an empty wheelchair.

Some families bail the mud from their houses. Mothers use muddy rags to wipe off kitchen utensils. Most residents have nowhere else to go.

“I've been cleaning out my dirt house,” said Yonel Charles, who lost all his possessions in the floods. “I have to stay here.”

The floods from Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike destroyed an estimated 60 percent of Haiti's food harvest. The WFP said it has delivered more than 2,200 metric tons of food during this emergency, enough to feed almost 500,000 people.