In Haiti, the long wait for relief

Under clumps of bougainvillea, the sidewalks are cracked, the buildings covered with cracks. Those who did not hold the shock fell “Like a construction of matches”, observes a survivor, gone to buy coffee when the seismic wave resonated.

According to a provisional assessment of the Haitian civil protection, at least 1,400 people died and nearly 7,000 were injured in the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the Richter scale, which devastated southern Haiti on Saturday 14 August. According to the Red Cross, 800,000 people have been directly affected and 500,000 are considered particularly vulnerable. The roads are cut, the bridges collapsed, preventing the arrival of aid in this country, the poorest on the American continent.

At the epicenter, the Tiburon Peninsula, a strip of land stretching from east to west 150 kilometers from the capital. Winnie Gabriel was on Panel Magik radio at the time of the shock. “I ran into the courtyard to take refuge there, says the host, but the hardest part was getting back live for a special. It shocked me to hear these people not knowing what to do, that the hospitals were overwhelmed. “

“We are not able to take care of the wounded that we receive, testifies, shaken, a nurse from the clinic of Baradères, a municipality of Nippes, one of the three departments most affected by the earthquake (the other two being the South and Grand’Anse). I have already seen two people die in front of my eyes, and there is an injured child that I am looking at as I speak to you, he will soon be gone (to die for, Editor’s note). “

Jean Ronald Jocelyn, coordinator of the Hope for Haiti association, was not in Port-au-Prince on the day of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, which killed 230,000 people in its path. Like most southern Haitians, he had never experienced a high-intensity earthquake before Saturday, despite the recurrence of natural disasters on the island.

“When there were the first tremors, my first instinct was to think of my family, he explains from Les Cayes, third city in the country and capital of this southern region. With my brothers, we hurried to take our people to shelter in Saint-Jean-du-Sud, a rural town where we come from. ” Once safe, Jean Ronald Jocelyn began to prepare emergency kits – bandages, dressings, drugs – in the clinic of his association. “But we lack everything, starting with the doctors”, he specifies.

So far, the most seriously injured have been taken by helicopter to hospitals in the capital. The bulk of humanitarian aid – sent by the United States, Chile and Mexico – only arrived in small quantities by plane, via the Antoine-Simon des Cayes airport and the airstrip. of Jérémie, to the east.

In the absence of help, the inhabitants began to clear by hand, with sledgehammers and hammers, the remains of the collapsed buildings. In some towns around Les Cayes, such as Camp-Perrin, destruction is around 80%. “We uproot people trapped in the rubble every day”, describes Jean Ronald Jocelyn. In 2010, survivors were extracted from the debris a week after the earthquake. “The region is less densely populated than Port-au-Prince, reports a local elected official. Here river sand is used as a building material, the houses in the South are of better quality. “

“But here, the government is struggling to come to the aid so far from the capital, judge Jean Ronald Jocelyn. Everything is very centralized in Haiti, the remote areas, the communal sections, are forgotten. “ In the aftermath of the disaster, Prime Minister Ariel Henry flew to the scene, promising to act “With speed in the coming days”, while recognizing that“Reaching Camp Perrin is a very difficult exercise”.

There is indeed the National Route 2, which stretches from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes, to carry lifting equipment and relief supplies. But it goes through the district of Martissant, in the south of the capital, controlled by armed gangs known for their kidnappings. According to Haitian media, a fragile truce was found on Monday August 16 with the “bandits” to allow humanitarian convoys to pass. Churches, the only source of aid in some areas where the Haitian state does not intervene, are among the buildings most affected. Dozens of chapels and roofs collapsed across the South, according to witnesses. It is for the moment impossible to draw up a quantified assessment. “These are old buildings, the oldest on the island, built well before the earthquake standards”, reports to a local elected representative. On the eve of August 15, feast of “Our Lady”, baptisms and first communions were celebrated on the day of the earthquake. In the English, half of the church collapsed on the faithful. At least seven parishioners were found dead in the rubble according to images and videos collected by The cross. At least two priests, Fathers Jacques Percy and Émile Beldor, died in the disaster in the dioceses of Jérémie and Les Cayes. “I feel like a deep discouragement among the inhabitants, deplores Father Stevenson Montinard, of the Society of Priests of Saint-Jacques, based in Nippes. For the first time, I observe this form of depression. “

Few tents have been erected for the moment, for lack of canvas, while a tropical depression, Grace, was to touch Haiti on Tuesday August 17, raising the risk of floods and landslides, according to the US Agency for oceanic and atmospheric observation (NOAA). The weather conditions further complicate the delivery of humanitarian assistance like Handicap International. The team in Port-au-Prince and the reinforcements that were to arrive this Wednesday from Paris will not be able to fly to the area until Thursday, August 19, six days after the disaster, according to an official of the NGO.

For fear of aftershocks, the victims sleep under the stars, in public places and communal playgrounds. “Even those whose houses are still standing avoid venturing there”, explains Jean Ronald Jocelyn. Caught between two fires, they find themselves having to make the choice between facing the storm in the street and taking shelter in their weakened houses likely to collapse.


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