GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) _ Cries of adulation _ and hunger _ followed Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean and actor Matt Damon as they toured flood-ravaged Gonaives on Sept.14 to call attention to widespread suffering in the marooned city.
Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike submerged the Haitian city and cut off roadways. Where waters have receded, streets remain a stinking mud bath and homes are carpeted with muck and encrusted pots, pans and laundry.
“I’m speechless, I can’t believe it,” said Damon, looking down from a U.N. helicopter at people living on the rooftops of flooded homes.
The four-hour visit passed in a blur of stenches, colors and noise. A man on a bicycle tried to keep up with Damon and Jean’s truck, shouting, “I love you, Wyclef.” Jean raised his hand, but couldn’t smile back.
“It’s inhumane. I wish there was a word in the dictionary. No human should be living like this,” said Jean, who became famous through his Grammy-winning band, The Fugees, and later emerged as a solo artist.
As they turned onto the flooded Rue Christophe, another pickup packed with women sloshed within arm’s reach. Face-to-face with the celebrities, the women cried, “We’re hungry!” A young man calf-deep in water raised both arms and shouted, “Fix our roads. Fix our city!”
Damon and Haitian-born singer are encouraging more people to help the United Nations raise more than US$100 million for an estimated 800,000 people left in dire circumstances by four devastating tropical storms and hurricanes.
In Cabaret, the two stars arrived the day before where hundreds of Haitians mobbed their SUV, raised their hands in the air and yelled, “Wyclef!” repeatedly, unsettling security guards.
Things got rough when the truck carrying 300 bags of food ran into a ditch, forcing the rest of the caravan to stop. Jean clambered onto the roof of the SUV to calm the crowd, while bodyguards helped Damon make his way toward the truck with the food. He reached it easily; nobody recognized him.
Cabaret, north of the Haitian capital, had at least 60 residents die in flash floods and hundreds were left homeless as Hurricane Ike grazed Haiti last week.
“I want to see Wyclef because he is my artist,” said 25-year-old Jean Sadrac. “I want Wyclef to help me with money or water.”
Sunday, the private sector and artists in Haiti organized a benefit concert to raise funds for the hurricane’s victims au Parc Historique de la Canne à Sucre. 7,000.000 gdes (193.622 US Dollar(s)) have been raised with 5,000.000 gdes (138.301 US Dollar(s) ) more pledge. The fundraising will continue this week.
At least 331 people have died in the onslaught of storms since mid-August, which has overwhelmed international relief agencies.
Even as the waters recede, the World Food Program has warned of an impending hunger crisis if it cannot replenish its stocks.
The program has been using supplies meant to feed Haitians already reeling from shortages and skyrocketing food prices before floods wiped out huge swaths of cropland in the vital Artibonite Valley.
Proud and tumultuous Gonaives is where Haiti declared independence from France in 1804 as the world’s first black republic. Bloody 1985 protests led to the downfall of the father-son Duvalier dictatorship and in 2004 a deadly march fomented the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Fears that unrest is simmering here has led U.N. officials to distribute food at night under Argentine soldiers’ guard. Haitian officials have discussed building new settlements for vulnerable residents above the current city.
Once emergency aid started arriving four days after the storm, the U.N. agencies began ratcheting up food distributions to reach as many as 12,000 people a day. More than 120,000 people are in shelters in the Artibonite region, which includes Gonaives, desperate for water and food, the Haitian government reported.
Damon and Jean waded through knee-deep floodwaters and climbed a stage outside the Gonaives cathedral, where 500 people have taken refuge in the choir gallery.
The pair did not go into the cathedral, but Jean sang for a few minutes to a crowd outside. When he later tried to leave, people swept him into the streets. Admirers, some asking for money, clung to U.N. trucks as they drove away.