RIVIERE SALEE, Haiti -- At least 10 people and as many as 30 died yesterday when a boat that was to take them to the United States capsized.
Relatives and witnesses said most of the dead were children. They were below deck on the 25-foot sailboat and could not escape as it sank about 300 yards from shore on the west coast of Haiti.
One fisherman said he knew six children, from various families in his neighborhood of Portail Montrouis, who died in the boat.
Yesterday afternoon, no one was able to retrieve bodies or belongings still trapped in the hull of the boat. Bread, canned milk, cigarettes, water bottles, hats, clothing and shoes in plastic bags were floating inside the hull.
The boat was not equipped to carry more than 40 people, but the organizer of the trip had sold space to about 150 people, witnesses say. About 460 showed up.
"Everybody was fighting to get on board," said a man whose godchild was one of the dead. "There was a big fight. It was kind of unbelievable."
Several neighborhoods outside of St. Marc, the largest city near the site of the tragedy, were in mourning yesterday morning, but no one was allowed to show any grief, relatives say.
A man identified as Guy, whose 18-year-old sister did not return from the fateful voyage, said people who lost relatives were told not to show any grief.
"I was about to cry but someone told me not to," he said. "We don't want the police to know what we were doing."
The government of President Emile Jonassaint has made a commitment to stop people fleeing in boats. Last week, soldiers fired in the air as a boat was boarding near the town of Les Cayes, causing panic and leaving more than 60 people dead.
Guy said his sister learned of the trip through word of mouth. Everyone had paid about $40 for the voyage. All day Sunday, smaller fishing boats filled with people made the trip to this remote spot at the mouth of the salt river, where the boat was waiting.
"She went with several friends," he said. "Very few made it back."