Source AP ©

Haiti storm sufferers blame government for abandoning them

Victims of Tropical Storm Noel blame authorities for abandoning them and not protecting from marauding gangs.

Protesters blocked roads and burned tires on the outskirts of Cite Soleil to demand the government clean up after Noel, whose heavy rains and flooding killed 148 people in the Caribbean and left tens of thousands homeless.

Evacuees who spent four days in the overcrowded National School under U.N. protection said international troops abandoned the school Friday, leaving them defenseless against outside criminals who robbed them in the dead of night.

U.N. spokesmen said the shelter was turned over to Haitian authorities shortly after sundown, and that Friday's incident was a fight over food by evacuees who had not been fed until that evening.

But evacuees said Haitian authorities never arrived, that they were left alone in the school without a generator and that the attackers came from outside the shelter. A spokeswoman for the Haitian civil protection department did not return numerous phone messages Monday.

"It was pitch black, and a bunch of men ran in. I was lucky. I just took my daughter and ran out," said Sheila Jean, 29, who said the men stole a blanket she had been given by soldiers.

Peniel Darius, 17, was nearly trampled when men wielding sticks burst into the classroom where he and his mother had been sleeping and dragged a mattress out from under them.

"Everybody was yelling. Everybody was trying to hide," he said.

The 7,000-member U.N. force was installed to break gangs and stabilize the country after a 2004 rebellion ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But after Noel, the force found itself doing disaster relief instead - filling in for a year-and-a-half-old government neither equipped nor organized to handle the crisis.

Paraguayan snipers soothed frustrated mothers and Brazilian infantry passed out blankets with one hand while cradling assault rifles in the other. Supplies ran thin, with soldiers and evacuees alike complaining about a lack of blankets and food.

On Monday, the anger was directed at Cite Soleil municipal officials, who protesters said were pocketing aid for themselves and ignoring outlying areas hit hardest by flooding. One group pumped their fists and shouted, "The mayor is a liar!"

"In the state that the country is in now, the government can't help us," said Joseph Bernard, a leader at a church sheltering more than 400 people since Tuesday. "We're asking all the international organizations to give us whatever aid they can."

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