Haiti earthquake death toll remains a mystery

The view from the busy two-lane road is spectacular: tall limestone mountains rising to the east and the turquoise Caribbean shimmering to the west.

But this is no tourist resort. It's the site of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of mass graves where government crews buried tens of thousands of people killed by January's 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

While many of the mass graves are clearly marked with white wooden crosses atop mounds of dirt, the precise number of people buried beneath them may never be known. That's because since the earthquake, the Haitian government has not provided a precise accounting of the number of victims.

The disparate figures that government officials have provided over time cannot be verified. However, accounts by truck drivers who transported many of the bodies and workers who helped bury the victims suggest that official figures may not be incorrect.

Establishing a more precise death count is important for several reasons. It would help quantify the human loss, add historic context to one of the Western Hemisphere's worst disasters and help clarify initial confusion over varying death figures.

Haitian government estimates ranged from 100,000 to 270,000 in the days following the earthquake that crumbled thousands of buildings, including the presidential palace, government ministries, schools, churches, businesses and homes.

A government spokesman told The Miami Herald that more than 200,000 people have already been laid to rest in common graves, but that that figure does not include victims still under the rubble and victims buried privately by families or friends.

At the same time, workers at the Port-au-Prince main cemetery said that dozens of private crypts were reopened for earthquake dead.

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