Gonaives is a port city with an estimated population of 200,000. The sixth largest city in Haiti, Gonaives is located approximately 110 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
In August 2002 armed street gangs and members of local political groups known as "popular organizations" blocked roads and assaulted government facilities and vehicles in the Haitian city of Gonaives. On August 2, an armed mob attacked a Haitian National Police detention facility and aided in the escape of Amiot "Cubain" Metayer, a notorious criminal and gang leader. The prison break also resulted in the escape of dozens of other criminals, including former soldiers convicted for the 1994 massacre of civilians in nearby Raboteau.
In late 2003, anti-government demonstrations in Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, Petit-Goave, and other townships began to increase in size, frequency and violence. Another surge in conflict and violence began on 05 February 2004, when members of armed opposition groups seized control of Gonaives, Haiti's fourth largest city. The armed opposition has effectively isolated the north from the rest of the country by blocking the two main highways at Gonaives and Hinche, preventing the northward transport of food and oil.
The incompetence of the interim government has manifested itself in various ways. Haiti is one of the Caribbean's most disaster-prone countries. Haiti's government was the only government in the path of Hurricane Jeanne that did not warn or evacuate its citizens when the storm came racing through the Caribbean in September 2004. Jeanne pummeled the United States, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Barbados as a full-blown hurricane, and killed 34 people in all of those countries combined. She was only a tropical storm when she hit Haiti, but she killed over 3,000 Haitians and left thousands more hungry and homeless, because the interim government was unprepared to protect the Haitian people.
On 18 September 2004 the tropical storm Jeanne left a path of devastation in the western coastal areas of Haiti, particularly in the city of Gonaives. Nearly 300,000 people were affected by the flooding and rains. On 05 October 2004 the Haitian government reported what is believed to be the final death toll - 3,006 with 2,826 dead in Gonaives.
To say that Gonaives was traumatized is a gross understatement: 80% of the population was affected, more than 4,500 houses were destroyed, dead livestock contaminated water supplies, edible food was in scarce supply, crops were wiped out, access to the city was treacherous at best, and security was non-existent. An estimated 35,000 homes in Gonaives were affected with nearly 5,000 destroyed or damaged. Almost all the city's 397 elementary and 54 secondary schools were damaged and closed. Gonaives' hospital was damaged and closed down indefinitely, and health care made available primarily through small health centers. With the entire watershed already denuded because of deforestation, an estimated 70 percent of the region's agricultural areas were damaged.
The street drainage system in both Gonaives and Port de Paix was overwhelmed by the flooding resulting from Jeanne. Storm surges from Jeanne resulted in the deposit of mud and debris into Gonaives and Port de Paix, clogging the urban drainage systems. Approximately 592,000 cubic meters of mud needed to be removed from the city of Gonaives.
The wall of water that descended on Gonaives, Haiti, following Tropical Storm Jeanne on September 18, 2004, also scoured out a broad channel in the landscape. The rush of water left a silvery path of gravel and mud that is as much as 500 meters wide starting about 15 kilometers upstream of the city. As the water approached the less mountainous coast where Gonaives is located, it fanned out over the plain. The primary path of the flood seemed to take the water into Gonaives and the land to its immediate north. To the east of Gonaives, some of the flood water filled a lake basin. The road leading to Gonaives was submerged in the lake basin, though is still visible beneath the dark blue water.
The security situation in Gonaives remained relatively calm throughout January 2005. This has allowed the continued progress of clean-up and rehabilitation projects in the city, as well as a vibrant upswing in economic activities.
Emergency food distribution in Gona´ves, which was initiated in the wake of the floods caused by tropical storm Jeanne on 17 and 18 September 2004, ended on 14 March 2005. The World Food Programme alone distributed a total of 6,386 tons of food in Gona´ves and other affected areas to more than 160,000 people. More specific food-assistance projects targeting vulnerable groups continued to be implemented, as well as cash-for-work and school canteen programmes, and reconstruction of schools, health centers and other social infrastructure. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) In the pre-flood image, acquired on August 8, 2001, the city is the gray region in the lower left corner. In the image acquired on September 26, 2004, the city is obscured by the blue-green sediment left by the flood water. In these false-color images, vegetation is bright red and water is black. Bare land is white and light blue. Clearly the hills around the city are bare, one of the primary reasons for the floods. Without trees to slow and absorb rainfall, the water rushed into depressions in the land and poured to the ocean beyond Gonaives. A wall of water and mud buried much of Gonaives, Haiti, in the wake of Tropical Storm Jeanne, which struck the island of Hispaniola on September 18, 2004. Four days later, the Ikonos satellite captured this high-resolution view of the water-logged city. Brown mud or water still covers a large part of the city. Roads that were visible on September 17 have disappeared, as have a number of buildings. The densely populated city of about 200,000 was the most severely impacted region of Haiti.