Port-Au-Prince Morgue Overwhelmed
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Haiti faces immense challenges three days after the earthquake. U.S. troops and international organizations have begun handing out food and water, but there are countless logistical difficulties. In a few minutes we'll hear more about the U.S. aid effort from the man who is coordinating it, USAID director Rajiv Shah.
BLOCK: We begin this hour with a tragic scene that's been playing out in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Desperate people are gathering at the morgue in hopes of finding the bodies of loved ones. Numbers are impossible to confirm, but according to the U.N. and Haitian officials, more than 7,000 bodies have gone through the morgue. The vast majority have been buried in a mass grave.
NPR's Carrie Kahn visited the morgue today.
CARRIE KAHN: The city's one-story morgue is full. Authorities don't even try to get all the bodies inside the small building anymore. They just stack them out on the street. The line of corpses stretches to the end of the block, then snakes around the corner.
Mr. SERAFIN RODRIGUEZ(ph): It was very first time I see such a thing like that. (unintelligible) so many people.
KAHN: Serafin Rodriguez has come to the morgue with his brother, Afran Israel (ph). They went inside trying to find their neighbor who died in the earthquake.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: There are people all, everywhere. If you go in there, you have to lift your feet, first of all, to move, to go in.
KAHN: You have to watch where you walk, you might step on somebody.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, yes, yes, because everybody is all around on the ground.
Mr. AFRAN ISRAEL: It's like a dream.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Nightmare.
KAHN: The brothers say they have to find her and give their neighbor the dignified funeral that she deserves.
Mr. ISRAEL: When you're in a society, each member in the society is very important for others, and we think that they're important for us too.
KAHN: Dozens of friends and relatives outside the morgue have the same hope for a proper funeral for their loved ones. The crowd outside stand along the wall of a nearby building - the only patch of shade in the heat of the afternoon. Many say they are trying to prepare themselves emotionally before actually stepping inside. This is the second day that Gimone Sisterain(ph) has come looking for his parents. He speaks through a translator.
Mr. GIMONE SISTERAIN: (Through translator) They come driving here. Each time they spend one hour and a half to looking for them.
KAHN: Sisterain says he won't go back in again until tomorrow. He just needs to rest first. As we are talking to him, a small crowd gathers around us hoping we can offer some help. Paol Vatney(ph) shows us a picture of her older brother. She says he was selling shoes in a small stall on the downtown streets when the earthquake struck. A building fell down and crushed him.
Ms. PAOL VATNEY: (Speaking foreign language)
KAHN: She says she's already been inside the morgue, but it was too hard to find him. She says the bodies are decomposing and people's faces have changed so much. Vivian Suslouis(ph) shakes her head. She's here looking for her husband. She says she knows it will be difficult to go inside, but she's prepared to do anything to get his body out. Suslouis says her husband was at work at the time of the quake and should be wearing his plastic covered ID. She speaks through a translator.
Ms. VIVIAN SUSLOUIS: (Through translator) His badge is only on the body where with that one it's more easier to help to find him.
KAHN: The director of Port-au-Prince's main hospital, Dr. Alex Laseg(ph), says about 7,000 bodies have come through the morgue since Tuesday. He says he's doing the best he can to properly dispose of the cadavers. He says officials came last night and took many to a mass gravesite that has been set up outside the capital.
Dr. ALEX LASEG (Hospital Director, Port-au-Prince): It was about 1,000 last night.
KAHN: One thousand last night.
Dr. LASEG: Yeah.
KAHN: Looks like you have 1,000 still there.
Dr. LASEG: Yes. I call in order they could get them.
KAHN: He says he's arranged for more trucks to come today. Relatives come up the street with whatever they can find sturdy enough to take away their loved one's body. One man shows up with a pickup truck with a wooden box in the back. Another comes to the morgue with just a wheelbarrow and a sheet. Abnier Antoine(ph) brought six men with him, many from a funeral home where he just brought a cream-colored casket for his daughter Belin(ph).
(Soundbite of crowd)
KAHN: The men struggle to hold onto the large casket and get it inside a big truck at the end of the street.
Mr. ABNIER ANTOINE: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Antoine says his daughter was 25 and studying to be a teacher. She was at school in the classroom when the building collapsed. His eyes are full of pain and he looks exhausted.
Mr. ANTOINE: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: He says it's just too much devastation. The men place his daughter's coffin in the back of the truck and slide it all the way to the side. Antoine sighs. They then slide out another coffin from the truck, haul it out and carry it back down the street past all the dead bodies and into the morgue. Antoine had to purchase two coffins, the other one is for his nephew who also was studying at the school and died the day of the quake.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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