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Hopes fade for finding Haitian boat survivors

RESCUE teams scanned the clear blue waters off the Turks and Caicos Islands yesterday with fading hopes of finding dozens of Haitian migrants whose sailboat struck a reef and shattered in the waves.

Authorities have rescued more than 100 people, some clinging to the sharp reefs that surround the Atlantic archipelago, but "the more time the human body spends in the water, the opportunity for survival grows less," said US Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Johnson.

The death toll so far was 15 and authorities said about 70 people were unaccounted for.

The US Coast Guard, local marine police and volunteers searched hundreds of square miles of ocean for any survivors of the wooden sailboat that splintered on the reef.

Turks and Caicos officials were moving quickly to send the ill-fated migrants back to impoverished Haiti, saying 60 were flown home on Tuesday.

Fifty-eight more spent Tuesday night under blankets on cots in a gym, and an unspecified number were at another detention site or in hospital. The bodies of the unlucky 15 lay in a morgue.

It still wasn't clear when the boat wrecked. Johnson said the accident occurred on Monday afternoon, but Deputy Police Commissioner Hubert Hughes said it could have happened on Sunday night.

Turks and Caicos reported the disaster on Monday to the Coast Guard, which patrols the area for drug traffickers and illegal migrants.

The sailboat, crowded with about 200 men, women and teenagers fleeing Haiti's deep poverty, broke up as it tried to maneuver through treacherous coral reefs and was struck by heavy swells near West Caicos.

"The waves broke the boat apart," Samuel Been, minister of public safety for the Turks and Caicos Islands, said after talking with 10 survivors. "It was frightening."

Such perilous journeys have long been common globally, although the number of migrants risking their lives has fallen amid increased border enforcement by the US and Europe, as well as the global recession that has eliminated many unskilled jobs.


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