Thursday 23 March 2017

No one to count the dead and nothing to loot in demolished town

Giles Whittell

THERE is nowhere in Haiti more thoroughly demolished than Leogane, a sugar-cane town with deep roots in voodoo and a church that would have been 500 years old in August.

Within about a minute last Tuesday the church disintegrated during afternoon Mass. In its place there is now a mountain of rubble hiding an unknown number of bodies. In the six days since, the only aid dispatched along the potholed 20-mile (30km) road from Port-au-Prince has been a single water truck. The water came on Sunday, delivered by a local Catholic charity.

"Until then we had water from a hose but it's not drinkable, and yesterday's delivery was just a few hundred bottles," said Alland Zetrelle, waiting for more outside a police compound.

He was not optimistic. "I have 10 children who had nothing to eat this morning or yesterday or the day before that. There is nothing to buy and, anyway, I have no money. And there is not even a rumour of aid."

Leogane was the nearest large town to the epicentre of the earthquake. Eighty per cent of the town was completely destroyed. In the luckier parts of Port-au-Prince the impact was random, here it was uniform and merciless.

The town's population is about 120,000. No one knows how many died because there is no one left to make a list of the missing. The most senior official in town is a bewildered Cameroonian policeman.

Yesterday youths tore down the tin roof of an annexe to the Ecole des Soeurs that survived the quake to start building shelters of their own. "When we find a body we carry it off to one side so people can come and bury it," Mwaguel Guilaume (16) said.

The UN has long since declared this the biggest humanitarian disaster in its history. Before the earthquake struck, the UN compound an hour's drive away was already one of the largest in the world, with permanent food stockpiles and a formidable fleet of aircraft, helicopters and lorries. But Leogane does not appear to be on the UN's map.

Canadian military logistics experts drove through the town yesterday to assess its needs and then drove away. Medecins sans Frontieres has set up a field clinic near the Ecole des Infirmieres but few know about it. The wounded have left for the Dominican Republic if they can afford the ticket and withstand the eight-hour drive. Otherwise they lie and wait.

There was no looting yesterday in Leogane because there was nothing to loot. In Port-au-Prince, however, where markets have begun to reopen and the first convoys of lorries from the border and the airport are beginning to get through, the pickings are richer and violence is mounting. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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