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Haiti earthquake - starving survivors reduced to eating grass

January 24, 2010 - Nearly two weeks after the devastation was unleashed, she has received no aid, her home is an open patch of grass under a tree, and her only food the leaves that fall from branches overhead. "We have nothing so we pick up the leaves, boil them in water from the river and eat them," she says. "No-one has come to help us and we cannot live like this. It is not possible to live on leaves."...


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Haiti earthquake - starving survivors reduced to eating grass

By Nick Allen in Leogane

The eyes of the world are on Haiti but at the epicentre of the earthquake that shattered her country, Anite Bertrand wonders why they cannot seem to see her.

January 24, 2010

Nearly two weeks after the devastation was unleashed, she has received no aid, her home is an open patch of grass under a tree, and her only food the leaves that fall from branches overhead.

"We have nothing so we pick up the leaves, boil them in water from the river and eat them," she says. "No-one has come to help us and we cannot live like this. It is not possible to live on leaves."

Yesterday the government of Haiti announced through the United Nations that the search and rescue phase of the relief effort was being formally scaled down, in order to concentrate on bringing food, water and medical help to the earthquake's survivors.

For those around Leogane, the dirt poor coastal farming town where the most powerful tremors were felt, such help is desperately needed. It is just 20 miles from the capital, Port au Prince. Yet like so many other corners of the earthquake zone - none of them far-flung - it has received only minimal assistance so far.

Mrs Bertrand's seven-year-old son Milky sat quietly nearby, his eyes wide with hunger, and an enormous right-angled gash on the top of his head, as she recalled the horrors of the previous 11 days.

Her son was inside their house playing when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck on Jan 12 and a breeze block fell on his head.

"I rushed back and found him and his eyes were closed," she said. "I thought he was dead. I could see his skull. I took him to the hospital but it had collapsed. There was no medicine, nowhere to go and he was in so much pain. He cried all the time."

For a week the boy suffered with his gaping head wound before a makeshift clinic opened nearby and it could be stitched up.

Leogane itself looks as if it has been carpet bombed, with between 80 and 90 per cent of its buildings destroyed. In a town of 120,000 people, the best estimate is that 30,000 have died. No-one knows for sure, as so many bodies remain under the rubble. About 500 of those are at the St Rose de Lima school, which was filled with children, priests and nuns.

The infrastructure of everyday life is gone. Banks, the police headquarters and municipal officers were all wiped out. Outside the city the lush hills where bananas grow have ruptured, sending boulders crashing down into villages.

On the road that leads 20 miles west to Leogane from the capital Port-au-Prince, deep fissures have opened up. Approaching the city a scrawled sign reads "We need help" and the countryside is dotted with makeshift tents. On the outskirts homes and shops lie in various states of collapse with concrete slab roofs concertinaed everywhere.

In Leogane everybody now sleeps under the stars and the sidestreets are lined with small, triangular shelters built from wooden-frames and corrugated iron sheets.

Inside, on mattresses scavenged from the wreckage, lie survivors with broken limbs and bloody makeshift bandages. Most of them are doing nothing, simply waiting. Others have fled to set up ramshackle settlements in the surrounding sugar cane fields and mangrove swamps.

In the centre of town more than 100 people stood praying on a grass square. An unpaved road leads from the square to the shattered shell of the city's main landmark, the 500-year-old St Rose of Lima church, the oldest in Haiti. It crumbled during a service and bodies remain below.

The façade is now a 30ft high moutainn of rubble with its giant bell sitting precariously on top. Inside, the marble altar survived without a scratch.

In the nearby Rue de l'Hopital, Rosanna Compere, 50, looked dazed as she stared at a pile of rocks that used to be her home. Four of her six children - Marise, 20, Mariemath, 15, Juerdy, 11, and Theodora, 10 – perished when it collapsed.

Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at half a dozen pairs of Mariemath's dancing shoes strewn in the wreckage.

"Mariemath was the most beautiful girl. She had dreams, big dreams. My daughter was a dancer and she loved to put on a show," she said. "She wanted to do it professionally. If that did not happen then she wanted to be a journalist on the radio. I cannot believe she is gone.

"My daughter Marise was going to be a nurse and wanted to go to work in the United States. She was going to take me there." Mention of Theodora lifts her sombre mood. She remembers how her daughter loved the Cha-cha-cha, played the saxophone and dreamed of traveling the world. Her son, Juerdy loved football. "He played in midfield and wanted to be a big star player," she said. "I loved them all so much. I miss them with all my heart. They are still part of me." There is nothing to remember the children by, not even a photograph.

Her eldest son Wisley, 29, who survived, said: "I was outside when this catastrophe happened and I came running back. I saw my house flattened. I saw my sisters dead, my brother dead. I picked them up and carried them out into the street. I was weeping. I cry even now thinking about it."

He pointed at a soft toy amidst the shards of wreckage "That was Juerdy's," he said. "And this exercise book was Mariemath's. That was what she wrote all her school things in." He shook his head as he looks at the mangled wreckage of his own bed.

The bodies of the children lay in the street for a week along with the rest of Leogane's dead before trucks came to take them to anonymous mass graves in the hills of Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince. They were bulldozed into trenches along with thousands of others.

"We don't know where they are," said Mr Compere. "We will never know. The truck came and took them and it was so hard to let them go but we had to. We survived but we have nothing now, we sleep in the street. We need help but it doesn't come." Holding up a mini-carton of orange juice, he said: "This is all we have had so far."

Many in Leogane feel they have been forgotten by the international aid effort so there was an explosion of excitement on Friday when, a full 10 days after their city disintegrated, an articulated lorry pulled in to deliver 2,500 food packs from Germany.

Because of fears of a riot the truck was accompanied by a contingent of soldiers from Germany and Canada, and US Marines. They guarded the truck, forming a line in front of the church as thousands of people pressed forward.

There was a brief period of mayhem as the key to open the container was lost for 15 minutes. After the food was distributed many people remained empty-handed.

Monique Dasir, 23, one of the lucky ones, clutched her food pack which contained eight meals. "I was so hungry," she said. "There has been a lot of misery here. It is impossible to find food." Volker Pellet, the Geman chargé d'affaires, said: "People are desperate. There is an extreme need here so we have moved forward into the affected area."

Despite the UN having identified Leogane as the place worst affected by the earthquake the first week after the catastrophe saw only one truck full of water arrive. In a field outside the city US military helicopters have now begun delivering food packs, which were guarded by Marines as ravenously hungry people looked on.

"I wish we could hand them straight out but we have to wait for the UN to come and distribute them," said one Marine.

In addition to having no food many people in Leogane still have broken, twisted limbs and festering sores which have yet to be treated. Médecins Sans Frontières has established clinics in the area but many of the injured do not know where they are. Volunteers are being sent out with megaphones to advertise their presence.

At one clinic 12 amputations had been performed and 45 more people were waiting to undergo surgery.

"If we are not there in the first day people die. That's a life saving time," said Dr Bichet Mathieu of MSF. "The consequences in medical terms are big."

Yet many Haitians spoken to by The Sunday Telegraph spoke to, even those who had suffered with painful injuries for more than a week, expressed no anger at the tardy arrival of food and medical aid.

Their stoicism was partly based on the fatalism of voodoo, which prescribes that God decides when a person dies.

"The Haitian people do not get afraid of death. We are sure that we come back again," said Max Beauvoir, the supreme servitor and highest priest of voodoo in Haiti. "We believe that everyone lives 16 times - eight times we live as men, and eight times as women - and the purpose of life is to gather all kinds of experiences."

He said many people felt God had sent the earthquake. "They see it as an act of God, meaning God would decide to hurt Haitian people, which of course is wrong," he said. "They're not only wounded in their body alone. They are wounded in their spirits and in their mind."

As the rescue workers began pulling out of Port-au-Prince two people were miraculously pulled from the wreckage of their homes. Emmannuel Buso, 21, a tailor, survived by drinking his own urine after furniture that fell around him created a space. He was so ghostly pale that his mother thought he was a corpse but doctors said he is expected to make a full recovery.

"I am here today because God wants it," he said from his hospital bed.

Marie Carida Romain, 84, was also rescued from another building. She was being treated in hospital for severe dehydration.

Yesterday the country's interior ministry said that more than 110,000 people had been confirmed dead, with over 190,000 injured. Nobody doubts that the true total will prove to be far higher, if ever it can even be counted. North of the capital, in the wasteland of Titanyen, where the children of Rosanna Compere were buried in a mass grave, workers are no longer bothering to dig holes. Instead, they leave corpses to rot in the sun and be eaten by animals.

Adults, children and babies have been dumped in undignified heaps and left to fester. "We don't want to go there," said Wisly Compere. "We would rather remember them as they were."

:: Article nr. 62525 sent on 24-jan-2010 19:43 ECT


Link: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/haiti/7063340/H

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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