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17 July 2024

Haiti mourns its dead; survivors seek cash, food

By Reuters
Haiti on Saturday mourned its earthquake dead and rescuers freed another survivor from the rubble, while victims struggled to find food and cash amid a slow-moving aid distribution operation.

Although the United Nations initially announced Haiti's government had halted search and rescue operations, some rescue teams still combed rubble in the shattered capital, Port-au-Prince, 11 days after the catastrophic quake.

French, Greek and US rescuers on Saturday carefully extracted a 24-year-old Haitian man from a collapsed hotel. Rescuers said he appeared to be in good condition.

To reach the survivor, two rescuers crawled into the tangled mass of concrete rubble, wooden beams and corrugated iron that was all that was left of the Port-au-Prince hotel. They sawed away material to help get the trapped man out.

"He was holding the light to help us saw. He just said 'Thank you' when we pulled him out," Carmen Michalska, a rescuer with the Greek team, told Reuters.

The January 12, magnitude-7 quake killed up to 200,000 people, Haitian authorities said, and left up to 3 million people hurt or homeless and clamoring for medical assistance, food and water in the hemisphere's poorest country.

Survivors were camping out in filthy conditions in about 300 makeshift camps across Port-au-Prince. People complained they were not getting enough aid, despite a huge US-led international relief effort.

Responding to the criticisms, US Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah said his organisation was doing all it could under difficult circumstances.

"The scale of the destruction and the human consequence ... is just unparalleled ... We're never going to meet the need as quickly as we'd like," Shah told Reuters. "We're going to be here providing the support for a long time."

Aid workers faced enormous challenges to get food and water distributed in a ruined city cluttered with rubble and overflowing with homeless and injured people. "No one can understand it until they're here," USAID's Gina Jackson said.

World Food Program officials estimated that some aid had reached more than two-thirds of the survivor camps.


In addition to the logistical challenges, there were concerns about security for food distribution operations, following the widespread looting of wrecked buildings in Port-au-Prince in the days following the quake.

The WFP was forced to curtail some distribution activities following attacks on two of its relief convoys on Friday, said Thiry Benoit, WFP's deputy country director for Haiti.

"There is a real security problem," he said at a briefing with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and other aid and government officials.

Downtown, members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, part of the 13,000-strong contingent of US troops helping the international relief effort, moved through a rubble-strewn street. Nearby, scavengers squabbled over goods taken from ruined buildings.

Earlier, hundreds of worshipers, priests and nuns gathered in the ruins of Notre Dame cathedral in Port-au-Prince for the funeral of Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar General Charles Benoit, both of whom died in the quake that demolished swaths of the coastal capital.

"What we lost we can't get back. It is not the rich who have lost, or the poor, we are all together," said Leon Sejour, a seminarian who traveled from Cap Haitien in the north.

As he left the archbishop's funeral, President Rene Preval was jostled and mobbed by people angry about the slow delivery of aid. A few youths shouted for him to quit.

Authorities said they had collected around 120,000 bodies of earthquake victims, but the final toll could be higher.

"We are now in the process of going round the funeral homes to count, but that could add some tens of thousands more," Culture and Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said. Authorities have been burying the dead in mass graves.


UN officials said rescue teams had saved more than 13O people since the earthquake, but the focus was turning to medical and food assistance for survivors and finding bodies.

In the gardens of the prime minister's office, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered a tanker of drinking water to quake victims in makeshift tents.

Survivors said they were still struggling to get food, with scant deliveries of aid. "My wife is out today looking for food," said Dominique Tombeau, sitting under a blue tarpaulin. "People are asking, when are the Americans coming to help?"

Fruits and vegetables appeared plentiful in street stalls, but people said they they had little cash to buy them and prices were much higher than before the quake.

Up to 1.5 million Haitians lost their homes in the earthquake.

The "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon held on Friday, led by George Clooney and Haiti-born rapper Wyclef Jean, raised more than $57 million for relief efforts, organisers said.

They said the amount was a record for public donations in a disaster relief telethon and did not include donations by corporations and large private donors and sales figures on the website iTunes.

Amid the grief, there were some indications the poor Caribbean country was coming back to life. Haitians waited outside banks re-opening on Saturday, eager to obtain cash to buy food and essential supplies.

"There's no work, there's no jobs, God only knows what's going to happen," teacher Myrtho Larco said.

The US military contingent has been flying in supplies, evacuating the seriously wounded and protecting aid distribution points since the day after the quake.


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