Haiti Plans Massive Relocation Of Quake Survivors

Men, women and children line up to receive water and food rations in Port-au-Prince.

Men, women and children line up to receive water and food rations distributed by U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at a golf club on the hills above Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Divid Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Divid Gilkey/NPR

The Haitian government plans to move 400,000 earthquake victims from the shattered capital to camps in outlying areas in the coming weeks to prevent the spread of disease.

Diseases could sweep quickly through crowded makeshift camps — where homeless families have little or no sanitation — like the one on Port-au-Prince's central Champ de Mars plaza, said Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to Haitian President Rene Preval.

"The Champ de Mars is no place for 1,000 or 10,000 people," Longchamp told The Associated Press. "They are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities."

A U.N. spokeswoman said the move would be temporary — and voluntary. Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers were busy leveling land in the suburb of Croix des Bouquets for a new tent city, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration reported Thursday.

Struggling In Tent Cities

For now, survivors are sleeping in nearly every open space in the capital, fearful that even the buildings that withstood the massive Jan. 12 earthquake could collapse in one of the frequent aftershocks.

An aftershock Thursday sent some who were indoors back into the streets. Observers said it was briefer than some of the 50 other temblors that have followed the initial quake, including a magnitude 5.9 aftershock this week.

At a small park on the edge of the city center, an acrid stench of excrement hung in the air. A young woman who gave her name only as Mariyam told NPR's Corey Flintoff that the toilets were overflowing, forcing people to relieve themselves on the ground and in the streets.

"I am sick. All of us are sick, and we are hungry, too," Mariyam said through an interpreter. "There are a lot of thieves. They are sneaking into people's houses, they are raping ladies. We are afraid, we don't know what to do."

More than 500 makeshift settlements with a population of about 472,000 are now scattered around the capital, said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for intergovernmental International Organization for Migration.

People were living under tarps stretched out in side streets and yards, many with bed-sheet banners that read, in English, "We need help — food and medicine."

In a neighborhood in the city's Petionville area, people were banding together to help themselves in the absence of help from outside.

"The reason why we organized this camping area is because a lot of prisons were destroyed, and now there are crooks, murderers and thieves everywhere," Macpan Mulphar, a 28-year-old student, told NPR's John Burnett. "So we want to watch everybody. You got these guys roaming at night. We want to see who's coming into and out of the neighborhood."

Exodus From Port-Au-Prince

Hundreds of thousands of survivors have fled the destruction in the capital. Aid officials said Friday that some 200,000 people have crammed into buses, nearly swamped ferries or set out on foot away from the ruined capital.

The flight from Port-au-Prince is a reversal of decades of migration out of a countryside where deforestation and erosion have impoverished the land.

Still others have tried to flee abroad. At Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, workers have been preparing tents for Haitian migrants in case of a mass exodus. In the 1990s, Guantanamo housed tens of thousands of Haitians until they could be sent home. The U.S. Embassy on Friday turned away hundreds of people seeking a trip out on the planes that have dropped off aid. Scores of U.S. citizens were given passes, but many were told that officials were overwhelmed and they would have to return later.

Aid Delivery

Although aid workers were having increasing success in distributing supplies of food, water and medicine, bottlenecks persist that have left hundreds of thousands of victims on their own. The U.S. military has reported a waiting list of 1,400 international relief flights seeking to land on Port-au-Prince's single runway, where 120 to 140 flights are arriving daily.

Photo Gallery: Slow Relief Under Way In Haiti

[Interactive:Photo Gallery: Slow Relief Under Way In Haiti]

This graphic requires version 9 or higher of the Adobe Flash Player.Get the latest Flash Player.

This interactive content is not supported by this device.

Slow Relief Under Way In Haiti

"They don't see any food and water coming to them, and they are frustrated," said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

International aid agencies and the U.S. military are still trying desperately to get aid into the capital. The U.N. World Food Program says it has moved tons of food into the city and hopes to soon be able to deliver rations to 100,000 people a day.

Several ships have managed to dock at the capital's earthquake-damaged port, holding out the promise of a new avenue for getting aid to the city. But the going was slow because only one delivery truck at a time could maneuver on the cracked pier.

Rescues and Evacuations

A few bulldozers have started to demolish buildings in the capital — the first step toward clearing rubble and rebuilding. The activity is also an implicit sign that hope of finding anyone still alive under the debris has faded, and international search-and-rescue teams were packing up their dogs and gear and heading home.

Still, incredible stories of survival emerged: Doctors said Friday that 84-year-old Marie Carida Romain had been pulled from the wreckage of her house in Port-au-Prince a full 10 days after the quake. "There is very little hope, but we are trying to save her life," Dr. Ernest Benjamin told The Associated Press.

Navy helicopters were evacuating severely wounded patients to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which arrived in the capital's port Wednesday.

Doctors said patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds. "A large number of those coming here are having to have amputations, since their wounds are so infected," said Brynjulf Ystgaard, a Norwegian surgeon at a Red Cross field hospital.

The Haitian government estimates that 200,000 people have been killed in the quake, with 250,000 injured and 2 million left homeless.

Street Markets Reopen

Though of the shops, banks and other businesses that survived the quake remain shut, street markets are operating again. But "nothing has returned to normal," said Wilna François, who was selling beans and lentils from wicker baskets at Quabosal market near the port.

François, 65, told NPR's Jason Beaubien that she lost her home and she's living in the street. There are very few customers, and the few who come don't have much money to spend. The man she used to borrow money from is dead, and so is her wholesaler. She says the food she salvaged after the quake is the last thing she has to sell.

"When all this is gone, I'm just going to wait for death to come get me," she says. "I don't have any other options."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.