Monday 11 December 2017

Haiti: With bare hands, they dig to reach survivors

Martin Fletcher

PEOPLE clawed with bare hands at the rubble of their homes in Haiti yesterday, searching for trapped relatives or scavenging for possessions as voices pleaded for help from beneath the rubble.

Haiti, the hell on earth, was a tortuous nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people as limbs protruded from shattered and twisted concrete structures. Aerial photographs showed great swathes of slum dwellings flattened or swept away by landslides.

Here the living and the dead vied for space in the ruins of Port-au-Prince as conditions in the earthquake-ravaged Haitian capital became ever more desperate.

At least 1,500 bodies piled up outside the mortuary, dumped by relatives with nowhere else to take them, and more arriving every hour. Corpses covered in threadbare sheets were laid out on pavements with the makeshift camps of dazed survivors who had lost their homes. The dead and wounded lay outside hospitals that were either full or, in most cases, destroyed.

Thousands of the newly homeless, covered in blood and dust and wrapped in blankets, wandered the devastated streets in search of increasingly scarce food, medicine and -- above all -- water. "Money is worth nothing right now. Water is the currency," said a foreign aid worker.

There was still no electricity or running water after Tuesday's quake. There were reports of looting. "All the police are busy rescuing and burying their own families. They don't have time to patrol the streets," Manuel Daheusch, a factory owner, said.

People were still clawing with bare hands at the rubble of their homes, searching for trapped relatives or scavenging for possessions. Voices could be heard crying for help beneath the wreckage. Here and there limbs protruded. Aerial photographs showed great swathes of slums flattened by landslides.

Tara Livesay, an American missionary, wrote on her blog: "Thousands of people are currently trapped. To guess at a number would be like guessing at raindrops in the ocean."

The first relief flights began landing at Port-au-Prince's airport -- without the benefit of the damaged control tower -- but there was still no semblance of an organised relief effort and the logistical problems were overwhelming. The Haitian government was scarcely functioning; the presidential palace and several ministries having been destroyed. World aid agencies were struggling to find their staff, let alone the thousands still trapped in ruined buildings.

As many as 170 UN staff were still unaccounted for, with 36 confirmed dead. Save the Children said that it had 20 missing. The Salesian missionaries said 200 seminarists remained under the rubble.

Vital infrastructure was destroyed. The port was too damaged to be used -- its one crane destroyed, a wharf broken up and debris beneath the water. Roads were blocked by rubble, cables, trees, crushed cars and the homeless. There was hardly any heavy lifting equipment and few means of communication.

"It's a logistical nightmare," said Elizabeth Byrs, of the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Paul Garwood, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation, said at least eight of the capital's hospitals had been severely damaged.

Irish Independent

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