updated 7/7/2009 7:43:42 PM ET 2009-07-07T23:43:42

Bill Clinton on Tuesday took his Haiti relief effort to this battered seaside city that was nearly destroyed last year by a series of tropical storms, finding a mud-caked maze of partially rebuilt homes and shops.

Clinton, the new special U.N. envoy to Haiti, visited a hospital and school in Gonaives that served as emergency shelters during the four tropical storms, which killed nearly 800 people and caused $1 billion in damage to irrigation, bridges and roads.

The former president praised reconstruction efforts but said much more work needed to be done. He said Haiti needs more money and better coordination among aid groups and the government to rebuild and spur development.

"I'm just trying to organize this process and drive it faster," Clinton said during a break in the tour along the city's craggy roads.

Aid has poured into the Gonaives region but many homes and shops remain damaged and the area remains vulnerable to flooding because the surrounding hills have been stripped of trees to produce charcoal.

It was Clinton's first trip to Gonaives but he was greeted like a returning hero. Shrieking girls clamored to have their photo taken with the former president and men pushed their elderly mothers through the crowd for a chance to shake his hand.

Haitians stood on piles of rubble to catch a glimpse of Clinton's motorcade as it wove through the rocky streets of Gonaives, one of the poorest cities in a chronically troubled country considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Clinton, who came to Gonaives with Haitian President Rene Preval, said the Haitian government and its international backers hope to create 150,000 to 200,000 jobs nationwide over the next two years. Many of those jobs will come from projects to rebuild roads and shore up erosion-prone hillsides.

"It will be hard, but I think it's important," Clinton said of his mission later after returning to the capital, Port-au-Prince. "I want to try and speed up the aid and make sure to direct it toward the priorities of the Haitian people."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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