Wednesday 13 December 2017

'They'll do anything to get on the boat. Then it is very dangerous'

Nick Allen and Tom Leonard in Port-au-Prince

Her two-year-old son Neldenki died in the rubble of their collapsed apartment block in Port-au-Prince and her surviving daughter, one-year-old Kimberly, looks ill having spent the past week sleeping on the streets among scavenging dogs and pigs.

Standing next to a ramshackle collection of tents and tarpaulins the broken-hearted mother said: "My heart is not here in this city anymore. My child is dead, my house is gone. I'm leaving and never coming back. I have to sleep on the street and there is nothing for me here.

"No one has given me any aid, or any help. I have nothing but my child. We cannot live like this."

More than a week after the earthquake that devastated the city, thousands are now fleeing the rubble-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince each day.

The government is identifying sites to erect a series of temporary villages for up to 400,000 in the countryside, each holding up to 10,000 people.

But many cannot wait that long and are piling on to the roofs of brightly painted buses or boarding dangerously overcrowded boats in an attempt to get to Cuba, the Bahamas, Miami or the Dominican Republic.

Thousands flooded the port area to try to get on the government-funded ferry, the Trois Rivieres, which was bound for Jeremie in the west of Haiti.

They swamped the vessel by taking tiny rowing boats to reach it a mile out and then forming a human chain to pass children on board.

Ferry owner Roger Rouzier said: "They'll do anything to get on the boat and then it becomes very, very dangerous."

In the city's Place St Pierre, hundreds waited for one of 34 free buses laid on by the government. Their worldly belongings were often contained in just a single plastic bag.

Finto Alismi (42), a cook, said: "I just want to leave. Everyone said there was a bus coming but I've been waiting since yesterday. People also said the government was going to give away money as well. They believe it."

Amos Tanis (40) was still heartbroken over the death of his son, 11-year-old Sabine, and was headed south to the town of Jacmel.


He said: "My house just fell down. I have no place to sleep and nobody has given me anything. I've been here since 4am but I have nowhere else to go."

Some showed the wounds they suffered in the earthquake and said they had received no help. Cuts on the arms of Pierre Motis (48) were becoming infected but he said no doctor had been to see him.

"My brother and sister died. I am lucky but I have no job and no family," he said. "I'm scared because there is going to be trouble here."

Emmanuel Auguste, a 48-year-old painter, scraped together the $5 a ticket to send his family, including seven children, to the town of Gonaives in the north on Wednesday.

Port-au-Prince has an infrastructure to cater for just 400,000 people -- but the city has an actual population of close to three million.

Ralph Chevry, a prominent Haitian businessman, said it had been a government goal for years to persuade more people to move out of the overcrowded capital.

"Many people in the city own some sort of property in the country so they won't be wandering around aimlessly," he said.

Amid fears that a wave of refugees will head for Cuba the US is erecting tents at the Guantanamo Bay base.

In the early 1990s the base was home to tens of thousands of Haitian boat people fleeing political unrest.

There was concern in Florida that ocean currents would bring Haitian migrants there.

American ships have already set up a containment barrier around Port-au-Prince to stop Haitians fleeing by boat.

David Halstead, director of Florida's division of emergency management, said the strategy was to use the large US naval and coast guard presence around Haiti to intercept Haitian boat people before they got close to America.

"I think right now, with everyone watching Haiti, for any boat or ship to be able to get out of there illegally would be a miracle in itself," he said.

Daily flights of US Air Force EC-130J Commando Solo aircraft -- airborne radio stations -- have been broadcasting warnings that would-be migrants will be intercepted and "sent home".

To help get the message across the US military is distributing 50,000 portable solar-powered and wind-up radios as well as food aid to Haitians.

"We don't want people to endanger their lives by taking risks to try to get to the US at this time," said Gordon Duguid, a state department spokesman.

Irish Independent

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