Across Haiti towns demolished, isolated

The Miami HeraldJanuary 15, 2010 

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- With a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of Haiti and rescue workers struggling to aid the nation's capital, reports began to emerge of other cities left in ruins and isolated by the earthquake.

In the coastal city of Jacmel in southwestern Haiti, scores of homes and buildings were reduced to rubble. At a vocational and auto school, an estimated 100 students were crushed when the building collapsed, neighbors said. Several bodies could be seen amid the wreckage, and flies buzzed all over.

The winding road between Jacmel and Port-au-Prince is buried in mounds of dirt and travelers are forced to get through on motorcycles.

The obstacles will only leave Jacmel and other cities and towns in southern and western Haiti more isolated and desperately in need of water, medicine and food.

``We need so much help, because there are people injured at the hospital, because there are a lot of bodies under the building,'' said Phen Lafondse, 34, an electrician.

The new damage reports come as security was deteriorating in Port-au-Prince.

Eyewitnesses in Port-au-Prince said frustrated survivors had blocked some roads with corpses and groups of men were spotted roaming the streets with machetes.

The U.N. World Food Program said its warehouses in the capital had been looted and didn't know how much of its 15,000-ton stockpile of food remained, the Associated Press reported. The Brazilian military warned aid groups to add security details.

Four Coast Guard cutters had arrived to provide relief and evacuate the injured, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

By Friday morning, the Navy's Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was off the coast of Haiti, ready to run helicopter sorties to designated landing zones and drop off relief supplies.

``We stand ready to deliver,'' said Navy Rear Adm. Ted Branch, operation coordinator for the Vinson, adding that two choppers had already delivered water to Port-au-Prince airport.

Branch described the scale of the devastation as ``daunting'' and said the supply runs would be complicated in hilly and debris-strewn areas, in part because the debris could get caught in rotor blades.

In Haiti, the vanguard of 900 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division were already on the ground to help secure distribution sites, Branch said.

Also Friday, The Dominican Institute of Communications said mobile phone service in Haiti had been restored after it established a satellite uplink in Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile, the Navy and Coast Guard are using the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba as a way-station for wounded American citizens being evacuated from Haiti, said Jose Ruiz, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami. He had no comment on whether there were plans to use it for a bigger humanitarian mission, but the base was equipped to shelter 10,000 refugees in pop-up tents.

Even as aid has been pouring into the nation, there have been problems getting it to those who need it most.

Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime acknowledged the breakdown, saying it was traditionally the U.N. Stabilization Force that coordinated relief efforts. But the U.N. is dealing with its own tragedy -- three of its top leaders, including mission chief Hedi Annabi -- are presumed dead.

``Before we can help the people, we have to figure out how to function under an extraordinarily difficult situation,'' President Rene Préval said Thursday. ``We can't even talk to one another.''

Government ministers finally received satellite phones and 40 radios Thursday, as Preval asked the country's three leading cellphone companies to do all they could to get communications up working.

On Thursday government workers dug mass graves and buried more than 7,000 dead, as corpses overwhelmed the city.

Thousands more corpses crammed hospitals and morgues still without electricity and communications two days after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

Casualty estimates were still unknown, but the Haitian Red Cross in Port-au-Prince estimated the dead at 45,000 to 50,000, a figure reported in Geneva by spokesman Jean-Luc Martinage of the International Red Cross.

In portions of the city, the nauseating odor of the dead was inescapable.

A pregnant woman seeking aid at a Red Cross station was told her fetus had died.

``We need help,'' said Rothin Massena, 29, a student who stood amid the wails of earthquake-wounded people outside a Petionville hotel. ``Where is the international community for us? We don't have food. We don't have water. We don't have money.''

Preval told The Miami Herald that in a 20-hour span, government workers removed 7,000 corpses from the streets and morgue and buried them in mass graves. Still, thousands more awaited burial, a trail of dead along sidewalks from downtown to the hills of Petionville, many abandoned, some covered in sheets or carted through the streets on makeshift stretchers fashioned from wood and soiled mattresses.

There was no choice, said Dr. Ariel Henry of the Ministry of Health, but to resort to landfill-style burials.

``We are out of hospitals. We don't even have electricity. And we don't even have supplies,'' including syringes, antibiotics, painkillers and blood for transfusions.

Read the complete coverage from the Miami Herald at miamiherald.com

Miami Herald staff writers Charles, Daniel and Robles reported from Haiti. Jen Lebovich reported from Guantánamo Bay. Rosenberg reported from Miami, as did staff writers Dan Chang, Douglas Hanks, Nancy San Martin and Jim Wyss. Lesley Clark contributed from Port-au-Prince.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service