LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) -Thousands of Haitians sought shelter in schoolhouses Saturday as the death toll from Tropical Storm Noel rose to 143 across the Caribbean.

Heavy rains continued to pound Haiti, leaving U.N. and Haitian officials temporarily stranded as they toured Haiti’s flooded southern peninsula.

Noel is the deadliest storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, with the greatest devastation on the waterlogged island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Desperation set in at shelters in the volatile Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, with people at one schoolhouse complaining on Saturday that U.N. guards abandoned the site overnight, allowing for a group of machete-wielding men to enter and threaten to rape young women.

Roseline Pierre, a 46-year-old mother with four children, said they had not received any food since Friday afternoon, and that shelter officials locked them out of classrooms Friday night, forcing everyone to sleep in the yard.

“What they’re doing to them is terrible,” said Laine Pierre Raymond, an official with the Ministry of Interior who criticized authorities for inaction.

Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, Brazilian commander of the U.N. force, also visited the shelter and denied guards had left their post overnight. He said responsibility for the nearly 10,000 evacuees rests with Haitian authorities.

But the Haitian government, struggling to rebuild after years of turmoil, has been almost entirely dependent on overtaxed international aid groups and U.N. peacekeepers to cope with the disaster.

In the southwestern town of Les Cayes, residents demanded government compensation for cows, goats and even TV sets they lost in the flood.

“It rained for two days without stopping,” said 44-year-old farmer Marcel Delswain. “We feel abandoned.”

Tropical Storm Noel killed at least 57 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic has confirmed 84 deaths from the storm. Noel killed at least one person each in Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Impoverished Haiti, however, is vulnerable to flooding because people have cut down most of the country’s trees to make charcoal, leaving the hillsides barren and unable to absorb heavy rain.

The Dominican Republic is not as deforested but suffers from severe flooding because of its steep mountains and people who live in simple homes .

along its rivers.

U.S. Coast Guard crews deployed to Dominican Republic rescued several people Friday, including a man tangled in a barb-wire fence who was submerged up to his neck in water. Rescuers also saved a man in his 70s or 80s trapped in a second-story home with a 9-year-old child. Crews delivered 15,900 food rations, according to a statement released by the agency.



Associated Press writers Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Jose Monegro in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Will Weissert in Havana contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-03-07 2220EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.