Haitians, searching for survivors with shovels, hope for more help


As rain from Tropical Storm Grace continued to pelt earthquake-shattered towns on Tuesday, some Haitians were growing frustrated with the slow pace of aid. In many places, residents and rescue workers were using their bare hands and shovels to search for survivors in collapsed buildings.

In Les Cayes, the heavily damaged port town in Southwest Haiti, a methodical rescue efforts was underway at a toppled apartment building in the neighborhood of Bonfret. A woman trapped deep in the rubble had earlier been in touch with rescuers by phone. Whether she was still alive Tuesday morning was unclear but rescuers reported sounds emanating from underneath a mound of concrete.

“We are not going after dead people. We are hoping everyone is alive,” said Adler Lubin, a public works administrator who was helping lead rescue efforts alongside Haitian soldiers and civil protection workers.

Still, the building had already claimed lives. One couple reported they lost three children in the collapse. Rescuers pulled two of the children from the rubble — on Tuesday morning, the corpse of a 3-year-old girl was on the ground, covered in a tarp, waiting for the Red Cross to remove her body.

The pace of rescue and aid efforts was frustratingly slow three days after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated the southwestern Tiburon peninsula of Haiti, killing at least 1,400 people, injuring thousands more and toppling or damaging thousands of structures and homes.

Les Cayes, which is about 120 miles southwest of the capital of Port-Au-Prince, was the scene of desperation Tuesday.

Some of the streets were flooded from Grace’s passage. Under the driving rain, Haitians waited in lines at money-transfer businesses, hoping to get money from relatives in South Florida. Young men picked through debris at Le Manguier, a hotel that collapsed during Saturday’s quake, killing Gabriel Fortuné, a longtime Haitian lawmaker and former mayor of Les Cayes.

At the town’s general hospital, patients overflowed the rooms. Some had avoided the winds and rain by sleeping in a covered walkway. They complained about the lack of tents and medication.

“If the rain or earthquake doesn’t kill you, the lack of health care will,” said Wilson Chery, who found refuge at the hospital from a nearby mountainous region that was largely inaccessible to rescuers.

Another medical facility, the 120-bed Hospital Lumiere in the nearby mountain village of Bonne Fin, partially collapsed in the quake. Patients have been evacuated and are under tents nearby, said Dennis Clancey, the operations director of Team Rubicon, a U.S. disaster relief organization.

The U.S. government is also setting up a base of operations in the town. USAID disaster response teams had to temporarily suspend operations late Monday because of Tropical Depression Grace, but were slated to return Tuesday to Les Cayes.

“The team reports that food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, and shelter are all priority needs,” said John Morrison, a member of the urban search and rescue team from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department that has joined the USAID response team.

A USAID official said that “much more” assistance for Haiti from the international community “will be needed in the coming days and weeks.” But while U.S. officials said they expect the death toll to climb, they do not believe the scale of the disaster will prove comparable to the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.

Asked about frustrations over the slow pace of recovery, a State Department officials said that Prime Minister Ariel Henry has expressed thanks and appreciation to the U.S. ambassador for the American efforts.

Still, relief organizations were scrambling try to get help to Haitians affected by Saturday’s quake.

Dr. Larry Pierre, the executive director of the Center for Haitian Studies, a Miami-based nonprofit founded in 1989 that provides health and social services, has donated 2 dozen beds for Haiti earthquake relief efforts. The beds, which had been sent before the quake hit the southern parts of the Caribbean nation, are in the process of being transported to hospitals.

The organization is trying to conduct relief work in a “more orderly fashion” compared to the 2010 earthquake, he said, to ensure that they are filling actual needs, adding that some supplies donated last time were eventually put in storage.

“We are trying to avoid the waste that goes on with this kind of thing,” Pierre said, adding that the group is planning to send more beds and supplies later this week. “It depends on how much we can ship and what the needs are,” he said. “We’ll see.”

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