Americas

Haiti: Quake Victims Dying from Treatable Wounds

An injured 8-year-old Haitian earthquake survivor waits at a French-run makeshift hospital to be treated in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 21. (Photo: Jewel Samad/ AFP-Getty Images)

"You are the first foreigners we have seen here," said Pierre Ronald.

Sheltering from the midday sun under a tree with about 30 others in Carrefour, one of the worst-hit areas in the capital Port-au-Prince, Ronald said no aid had been delivered.

"We need food, water, doctors––but one week after the disaster, nothing!" he exclaimed, visibly agitated. "Do you know anyone who can help? Can you tell people we are here without anything, please?"

Aid workers and rescue teams are still finding it very difficult to get into Haiti. The seaport is damaged, and the international airport has only one short runway and can accommodate only six aircraft on the ground at one time; not enough to facilitate the vast quantities of material needed to help the 3 million people affected by the disaster.

The country's limited infrastructure has taken a hammering. The roads are destroyed or clogged with chaotic traffic, and most of the police have not shown up for work since the earthquake on January 12. Many have been killed while others are looking for missing family members.

"We need security, too," said Arnaud, a man standing next to Ronald. He said that before the earthquake, he made a living as an artist, part of Haiti's largely popular and thriving arts and culture scene. But now he is more concerned about marauding thugs intent on looting and stealing.

"We have set up our own group to protect women and children. At night, we all sleep here in the open," he said, pointing to a shabbily painted playground close to the city's devastated harbor.

Around this shell of a city, thousands of people wait for assistance. While there are incidents of looting and violence, people are eager to talk. Most are desperate for help. A lot of the trouble, they say, is being caused by the 4,000 prisoners who escaped, unscathed, when the city's jail was destroyed in the quake.

U.S. soldiers have been deployed in rag-tag formation across the city, though the troop numbers are still short of the 10,000 discussed last week. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked for extra U.N. peacekeepers to bolster the Brazilian-led force that has been in Haiti since the country was ransacked by political violence in 2004.

But after squabbles between France and the United States over access to the airport, now run by the Americans, another turf war looms over command-and-control of the various foreign armies in the country, and over who-does-what in terms of dealing with troublemakers and protecting relief supplies and aid workers.

Taxi driver Jean-Claude Chevalier was standing on the street, close to his home in the squalid Carrefour slum district, when the quake hit.

"For 30, maybe 35 seconds, buildings were moving and falling. People were running, screaming," he said.

Unlike many other Haitians, he did not lose any family. His wife and seven children are alive. He said he lost his car when his house collapsed on top of it.

"I have no money, no house, and no way to feed my family," he said. Even if he still had a car, there is little or no fuel available. At the few functioning petrol stations around the city, people queue in the hot sun, with funnels and jerry cans at hand, to get whatever gasoline they can.

Like hundreds of thousands of Haitians, the Chevalier family is sleeping in the street at night. Traumatized by last week's disaster, many will not venture indoors lest aftershocks topple the thousands of half-standing buildings around the city. Serpentine cracks running up and across walls and facades are reminders that it may not be safe to go indoors.

These buildings will need to be knocked down and replaced. But for now, food, medicine and security are most urgently needed.

Irish NGO GOAL has set up a field hospital and is bringing in nurses to attend to the thousands of wounded. Darren Hanniffy is leading the GOAL operation in the shattered Haitian capital.

"We are supporting the construction of a field hospital, and a team of volunteer nurses is on its way," he said, stressing that all the relief teams and volunteers are "working 24/7 to get help to the people."

But supplies are limited and there are legions of injured.

The bottleneck at the airport means that medical supplies are slow to arrive, though things are picking up.

Judy is a Haitian nurse who lives in Miami. She flew home hours after the earthquake to help out and is now working at a temporary hospital close to the U.N. headquarters. She says patients are dying from treatable infections, after being wounded in the earthquake.

"We are grateful for the help that the world is giving us," she says, "but more is needed, and it is too slow to come."

This article was originally published by The Irrawaddy: http://www.irrawaddy.org/. Simon Roughneen is an Irrawaddy correspondent on temporary assignment in Haiti.

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