Morgue overwhelmed in Haiti

The Miami HeraldJanuary 14, 2010 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Survivors of Haiti's devastating earthquake waded through thousands of bodies strewn around the Port-au-Prince morgue, as rescue workers from across the globe raced against the clock to reach the shattered nation.

With emergency crews from the United States, Spain and Venezuela already on the ground, others were being turned away from landing at the city's airport due to overcrowding.

President Barack Obama said U.S. troops were on their way in what he called ``one of the largest relief efforts in history.''

As crowds camped out in city parks, bodies lay along sidewalks as common citizens did their best to tend to the wounded.

The Haitian Red Cross now estimates the number of deaths at between 45,000 and 50,000.

At the Port-au-Prince morgue, rescue workers ran out of places to store the bodies of the dead Thursday, forcing police, civilians and private contractors to leave the bodies in a pile outside.

An exasperated hospital manager said he had yet to receive authority from the central government to remove the corpses inside the facility.

As corpses were placed in the street, a small group of solemn onlookers watched. One woman waited beside a pine box, trying to find her loved one.

The mass of naked, swollen dead bodies included toddlers and adults, and made a gruesome scene as flies hovered over their bodies.

One woman's body had a red ribbon and a handwritten name tag tied to her left big toe.

Lionel Gaedi went to the morgue to find his brother, Josef.

``I don't see him,'' Gaedia said. ``It's a catastrophe. God gives, God takes.''

Gaedi looked at the mass of bodies exposed to the blazing sun and gave up, sure that he would never find his brother in the pile.

Canadian medical consultant Yuri Zelenski said he was working with local authorities to find a solution to the morgue's overcrowding.

I have been to many things, and I have never been to anything like this,'' Zelenski said as he looked on in disgust. ``I am shocked. I am short for words. These are hundreds of people, not buried. The morgue here was not designed for such a disaster.

At the Hotel Villa Creole in Petionville, furniture was used as gurneys and hotel guests with no medical training worked as EMTs.

``These people have nowhere else to go,'' Anne Wanlund said as she picked pieces of concrete out of a woman's head wound. ``Wherever they think there are supplies, any chance of getting help, they are going to take it.''

Wanlund, an office worker from Washington, D.C., who works with a State Department AIDS program, said she had learned by watching.

In the lobby were children with heads wrapped in blood-soaked gauze and little boys with feet twisted in the wrong direction. One woman lay so still it was unclear whether she was alive.

Juidthe Jacques, who brought her mother Marguerite in with a broken knee, fought back tears.

``Where are the doctors? We expected doctors,'' she said. ``The doctors are full, and all the people who go there lose their mind.''

Complicating the rescue efforts Thursday afternoon was a shut down of the Port-au-Prince airport to all but military flights, freezing efforts by relief agencies to get supplies into Haiti by private cargo planes.

An Amerijet cargo plane that left Miami International Airport for Port-au-Prince was forced to land in the Dominican Republic after getting word midflight it would not be able to land in Haiti.

The city's principal seaport is also thought to be too damaged to accept cargo ships.

Working overnight, a U.S. search-and-rescue team pulled a man from the wreckage of the U.N. building Thursday morning, where 60 to 100 people are still missing.

After a 5 ½-hour operation, the man emerged from the ruins of the six-story building on his own two feet, held up a fist in salute and climbed down a ladder to embrace rescue and embassy workers.

Tarmo Joveer, a Miami Shores security officer at the U.N., survived the collapse of the building, which pancaked down to a single story. He is a guard for the U.N.'s chief of mission, who remains missing.

David Wimhurst, the U.N. spokesman in Haiti, said eight people have been rescued and 13 bodies were recovered Thursday. Earlier in the day U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said 18 peacekeepers and four international police officers were confirmed dead, but it was not immediately clear what the U.N's total casualty count was.

At the Montana -- a 140-room hotel popular with UN personnel, diplomats and the Haitian elite -- workers used heavy machinery and dogs to search for those trapped in the rubble.

There were thought to be about 50 people beneath the hotel, and at least four had been able to communicate by knocking on the concrete.

``Go help other people,'' said one voice beneath the rubble. ``There's no way you can help me.''

With aftershocks still rocking the city, many Haitians decided to sleep outside Wednesday night.

A dozen young girls slept sitting up, legs folded, backs against a car.

At the Kinam Hotel, where guests were paying upward of $150 a night, many opted to sleep on the grass rather than in their rooms.

Across the street, in St. Pierre's Plaza, hundreds, possibly thousands camped out, singing hymns overnight.

``God, you are the one who gave me life,'' they sang. ``Why are we suffering?''

The Red Cross has estimated that at least three million Haitians were affected by the powerful earthquake that shattered the nation Tuesday.

In Geneva, the U.N. said damage to Haiti's port is preventing ship deliveries and the airport is struggling to handle dozens of incoming flights.

A Fort Lauderdale-based shipper said the cargo cranes along Haiti's principal pier had tumbled into the water.

Relief agencies have tons of supplies ready to go, but are waiting for assurances the material will get to victims efficiently in Port-au-Prince.

On Thursday morning, American Airlines landed a passenger plane filled with food, soap, diapers and other relief supplies for its employees and civilians in Port-au-Prince, a spokeswoman said. But a second flight has been delayed and a third canceled once the U.S. military sent word that the airport was restricting traffic, American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.

Diageo, the liquor maker with a large office in Miami and a Guinness brewery in Haiti, hired Amerijet to fly more than 45,000 pounds of relief supplies to Port-au-Prince Friday morning. Amerijet marketing director Christine Richard said she wasn't sure the Diageo shipment would leave as scheduled.

``We're hoping,'' she said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Army said the first group of soldiers -- a little more than 100 -- from the 82nd Airborne Division are on their way, the Associated Press reported. The troops will find locations to set up tents and other essentials in preparation for the arrival of another roughly 800 personnel from the division on Friday.

Miami Herald staff writer Trenton Daniel contributed to this report from the Dominican Republic. Special correspondent Stewart Stogel contributed from the United Nations, with reporting in Miami from Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks, Elinor Brecher, Nancy San Martin, Carol Rosenberg, Jim Wyss and Luisa Yanez.

Follow continuing coverage of this story at MiamiHerald.com

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