Aftershock brings fresh hardship to Haiti slum-dwellers
Published 21/01/2010 | 05:00
It is hard to imagine, but drive half an hour north from the centre of shattered Port-au-Prince and the plight of the people gets even worse.
The wretchedly poor inhabitants of Cite Soleil, Haiti's biggest and most notorious slum, had desperate problems even before last week's earthquake destroyed many of its breezeblock and corrugated iron shacks.
Now they are sent screaming by a powerful aftershock into the streets. The tremor collapsed buildings, cracked roads and added to the trauma of a nation stunned by an apocalyptic quake eight days ago.
The magnitude-5.9 jolt matched the strongest of the aftershocks that have followed the huge quake of January 12 that devastated Haiti's capital.
There were no reports of people crushed or trapped, perhaps because the earlier quake frightened most people into sleeping outside.
Wails of terror erupted in Port-au-Prince, where the aftershock briefly interrupted rescue efforts amid the broken concrete of collapsed buildings, and prompted doctors and patients to flee the University Hospital.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain homeless, hungry and in mourning -- most still waiting for the benefits of a nearly $1bn (€700m) global aid campaign that has brought hundreds of doctors and thousands of troops to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The hapless thousands have to contend with food, medical and water aid that is arriving even more slowly than in the rest of the city, but also with the return of 3,000 hardened criminals who fled the national prison when it was damaged in the quake.
Rubens Caries (26), a local man and member of Fondation Roussan Camille, a Haitian charity that helps young people stay out of the gangs, said some had tried to return only to be driven out by vigilante action. Cite Soleil's maze of alleys makes it perfect for hiding from police and UN troops, 10 of whom died when the quake destroyed the local UN post.
While acknowledging that the threat had not been resolved, Mr Caries said local people -- evidently aware that the slum's reputation could be hindering aid -- had acted as one in running them out as soon as they appeared.
"They formed a security team so that when they see any of them, they chase them and tell them they don't want any trouble," he said. At least one, a notorious killer nicknamed Blade, had been killed.
"He gave us too many problems. The people here had enough trouble with the catastrophe last week," he said.
With or without the gang leaders, local people believe Cite Soleil's position at the bottom of Haiti's social pile has worked against them once again.
"We're all victims in Port-au-Prince but here, we're considered second class citizens," said Louis Jean Janis (29), as he led the way to the slum's destroyed concrete water tower. "The people are not seeing the aid." (© Daily Telegraph, London)