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U.S. Rescues Shipwrecked Haitians

April 28, 2000

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ U.S. and Bahamian forces rescued 288 Haitian migrants whose boat ran aground in the southern Bahamas, officials said today. At least two people _ and possibly as many as 14 _ died during the voyage.

The U.S. Coast Guard evacuated 65 people suffering from severe hypothermia, dehydration and kidney failure on Thursday, a day after the ship ran aground off Flamingo Cay in the Ragged Island chain, about 250 miles from Haiti.

They were flown by helicopter to hospitals in Nassau and Great Exuma, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Gibran Soto. Another 223 Haitians were being taken to Nassau today by a Bahamian Defense Force ship.

Rescuers found two bodies on the Haitian vessel, Soto said by telephone from Miami. Officials had yet to confirm migrants’ reports that another 12 people died during the voyage.

U.S. Coast Guard helicopters and a C-130 aircraft ran dozens of flights, ferrying survivors and supplies, before the operation ended overnight, Soto said. The aircraft were deployed from Clearwater, Fla.

In all, the boat carried at least 290 Haitians _ the largest single load of migrants to reach the Bahamas in years, officials said. Survivors eventually will be returned to Haiti.

Three sailing vessels spotted the wreck and alerted officials.

The trip from Haiti to the Bahamas or to Florida’s coast is a risky journey, but one that more and more impoverished Haitians have been willing to take.

On Wednesday morning, another 122 Haitians landed on Inagua, the southernmost island in the Bahamian chain just over 100 miles from Haiti’s northern coast.

Officials in Florida said they found 15 Haitians dropped off Wednesday night near Key Biscayne by a motor boat running without lights. Two suspects from the smuggling vessel were arrested, one Bahamian and one Haitian, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said.

The Haitians said they paid $4,000 each for the trip, Border Patrol spokesman Joseph Mellia said.

The dramatic increase in the number of Haitians seeking refuge in the Bahamas coincides with increasing violence in Haiti as the nation gears up for long-postponed legislative elections.

But the director of Haiti’s National Migration Office, Carol Joseph, said he did not believe politics had a hand in the emigration.

``It’s a sign of economic despair,″ he said Thursday, noting that it takes months to prepare such voyages and that most migrants were subsistence farmers from Haiti’s northwest, not the capital where most of the political violence has been occurring.

Bahamian officials say they have no idea how many Haitians manage to reach the islands undetected. Though there is no official figure, some estimate as many as 40,000 Haitians live among the 300,000 Bahamians.

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