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Haiti needs helping hands

The long-suffering people of Haiti are enduring another catastrophe this week, after massive floods from what is now Hurricane Jeanne swept away thousands on this Caribbean island. The death toll Friday stood at 1,113, with another 1,300 missing. Human and animal carcasses float by what few trucks are bringing aid to the quarter-million residents of devastated Gonaives.

This latest tragedy, coming after months of political turmoil and violence and deadly spring floods, should spark a massive relief effort to Haiti and prod the world community to follow up with a broad reconstruction of the island nation. Real political reform remains a long-term necessity. But the current disaster demands immediate intervention.

The United States was shamed into upping its initial $60,000 pledge to $2-million, but even that is paltry, as our own experience here in Florida with disastrous hurricanes and tropical storms shows.

Tens of thousands of Haitians need the basics: food, water and building supplies to repair damaged homes. Helicopters could more easily ferry supplies to flooded areas. The United Nations and private aid groups need cash and equipment to distribute supplies. A large international force will be needed to secure the recovery effort.

But this disastrous year should also mark the time the world dealt seriously with Haiti. An island nation in a hurricane zone that has downed 90 percent of its forests for cooking fuel will always be prone to killer floods until new vegetation secures the ground. A new World Bank reconstruction plan is a start, but it will take more than the $1.4-billion the world has pledged, and more follow-through this time, if Haiti is to replace misery with any hope.

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