Sunday 11 December 2016

Families look for loved ones amid bodies lying on roads

Tom Leonard and Breda Heffernan

Published 14/01/2010 | 05:00

FEW buildings were spared in Port-au-Prince as the country's parliament and tax headquarters collapsed along with schools and hospitals following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

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As a cloud of dust cleared over the city of two million people, many woke from a night spent sleeping in the open to find much of Port-au-Prince destroyed, its shoddy buildings lying in the streets like toppled toys.

In an atmosphere of chaos and confusion, dust-covered survivors emerged wailing from the rubble. Large crowds gathered on corners, unsure of what to do or where to go, while thousands gravitated to public squares to sing hymns as smoke could be seen rising from parts of the city.

Haiti has no real construction standards and the capital's mayor estimated a year ago that 60pc of the buildings were unsound.

With the country temporarily cut off from the rest of the world and the United Nations' 9,000 peacekeepers spending the night digging through the rubble of their own shattered headquarters, the initial critical hours for rescue efforts were largely in the hands of ordinary Haitians.

As they pulled bodies from collapsed buildings -- their work hampered by giant blocks of concrete that fell unbroken into the streets -- the corpses were covered with sheets and left by the roadside.

Passersby lifted the sheets to see if their loved ones were underneath. Outside one building, the bodies of five children and three adults lay in a pile.

Even seriously injured people simply spent the day sitting in the streets, pleading in vain for medical help.

Efforts to reach the worst hit were hampered further by the breakdown in electricity supplies and phone services.

While the airport remained open, the main road connecting it to the capital was impassable and others were blocked with debris. The UN reported that the main prison had collapsed and inmates had escaped.

Ravines

Many of the city's homes were built on the edge of ravines and cliffs and there were reports that some had simply slipped over the edge.

While scientists predicted that more sturdily constructed buildings were likely to fare better, it was clear that even those had in some cases been split apart by the force of the quake, including the presidential palace.

"If a building like the palace -- which is very solid -- collapsed, then the devastation is going to be worse because a lot of the buildings are not up to code around Port-au-Prince," said the Haitian President, Rene Preval.

In Petionville, the affluent hilltop suburb home to wealthy Haitians and diplomats, people screamed for help from inside a wrecked hospital.

"A school near here collapsed totally. We don't know if there were any children inside," said Ken Michel, a local resident.

The destruction of hospitals caused serious problems as hundreds of people crowded into those that remained.

Jillian Thorp, a young American aid worker, was trapped for about 10 hours under the remains of her mission house before she was rescued by her husband.

Frank Thorp, who drove 100 miles when he heard of the earthquake, said that he dug for more than an hour to free his wife from under a foot of concrete.

Joel Trimble, a missionary in Haiti, said the earthquake had "felt like a train was coming down the road" and that his house was not so much shaking as rocking.

Louise Ivers, the clinical director of an aid organisation called Partners in Health, sent an email to colleagues saying: "Port-au-Prince is devastated, lots of deaths. SOS. SOS. Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us."

Senior irish aid workers also described a scene of utter devastation.

Concern's Brian Tabben, assistant country director for Haiti, told how bodies were strewn along the sides of the roads as the surviving population faced severe shortages of food and water.

"I'm based in the suburbs, on a high altitude a little above Port-au-Prince. The more you descend to the centre, the more damage there is to buildings," Mr Tabben told the Irish Independent.

He said that all of Concern's international staff members had been accounted for and are well; however, he hasn't been able to trace all of their local staff.

"It's very difficult to make phone calls in the country, to communicate with government agencies. It seems the large organisations like the UN have been affected and there is a tremendous loss of their people and of course of their capacity to work," he added.

GOAL's team in Haiti is being headed by Darren Hanniffy, a civil engineer and former All-Ireland winning hurler, who was due to arrive in Port-au-Prince at around 8.30pm yesterday Irish time.

Speaking as he got ready to board a plane in Jamaica, Mr Hanniffy said GOAL would be working in conjunction with the house-building charity Haven Partnership.

"We're looking at an area to the south of Port-au-Prince to carry out our emergency evaluation where Haven already have a presence. A large team of Goalies are on their way."

Irish Independent

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