Tensions are rising over the weekend’s massive earthquake that killed more than 2,100 people in Haiti, followed by a deep tropical depression and the slow pace of aid to victims.
Crowds gathered outside a fence at a small airport in the southwestern district of Les Cayes on Wednesday as an aid plane arrived and crews began loading boxes into waiting trucks. A squad of Haitian National Police officers in uniform, who were at the airport to protect the relief supplies, fired two warning shots to disperse the group of young people.
Angry crowds also gathered outside collapsed buildings in the city to demand tarps for temporary shelters after Tropical Storm Grace brought heavy rains earlier in the week.
Haiti’s civil protection agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 2,189 Wednesday night from 1,941 a year ago and said 12,268 people were injured. Dozens of people are still missing.
Officials estimate the 7.2-magnitude quake destroyed more than 7,000 homes, damaged more than 12,000 and left some 30,000 families homeless. Schools, offices and churches were also demolished or severely damaged. The southwestern part of the Caribbean country was hit the hardest.
One of the first food supplies delivered by the local government – dozens of boxes of rice and pre-measured, pre-packaged meal kits – arrived at a tent camp set up in one of the poorest areas of Le Quai, where most of the single-story cinderblock buildings are located. Houses with tin roofs were damaged or destroyed in Saturday’s earthquake.
But the shipment was clearly not enough for the hundreds of people who had already been living under tents and tarps for five days.
“It’s not enough, but we will do our best to make sure everyone gets at least something,” said Vladimir Martineau, a resident of the camp who is in charge of the distribution.
Gerda Francoise, 24, is one of dozens of people lining up in the sweltering heat hoping to get food.” I don’t know what I’m going to get, but I need something to take back to my tent,” Francoise said.” I have a child.”
International aid officials on the ground say hospitals in the worst-affected areas are largely without capacity and desperately need medical equipment. But the government has told at least one foreign organization that has been operating in the country for nearly three decades that it does not need the help of its hundreds of medical volunteers.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Wednesday that his government will try to avoid “repeating a history of mismanagement and aid coordination,” referring to the chaos that followed the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake when the government was accused of not getting all the money it needed. money raised by donors for those in need.
Meanwhile, the Core Group, a coalition of leading international diplomats from the United States and other countries monitoring Haiti, said in a statement that its members are “strongly committed to working with national and local authorities to ensure that affected people and areas receive adequate assistance.”
Aid is gradually reaching thousands of homeless people. But distributing it will not be easy in the current situation.
“We are planning a meeting to start clearing all the destroyed plots because this will give the owner of the plot the opportunity to build at least something temporary to live on with wood,” said Serge Chery, head of civil protection in the southern province, which includes Les Cayes.” It will be easier to distribute aid if people live at their own addresses, rather than in tents.”
About 300 people are still missing in the area, Chery said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said a preliminary analysis of satellite images after the quake showed hundreds of landslides.
While some officials suggested the search phase should be completed and heavy equipment called in to clear debris, Henry seemed reluctant to enter that phase.
“Some of our citizens are still under the rubble.” We have teams of foreigners and Haitians doing this,” he said.
He also called for unity: “We have to put our heads together and rebuild Haiti.”
“This country is physically and morally ruined,” Henry said.
Dr. Bart Green, president and co-founder of the Medical Sharing Project, an organization that has been working to improve medical care in Haiti since 1994, said he hopes the U.S. military will build a field hospital in the affected area.