Stray Bullets Take Their Toll in Haiti Slum Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, has been struggling for months to quell violence and prepare for national elections, which take place next month. The residents of the slum knowns as Citey Soleil are caught in the crossfire.
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Stray Bullets Take Their Toll in Haiti Slum

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Stray Bullets Take Their Toll in Haiti Slum

Stray Bullets Take Their Toll in Haiti Slum

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. The capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is a violent place. There's so much gunfire that for residents in one part of the city avoiding stray bullets is part of the daily struggle to survive. Reporter Amelia Shaw takes us on an overnight visit to a hospital in one embattled slum.

AMELIA SHAW: In his day job, Loris De Filippi (ph) is head of mission for Doctors Without Borders, but he also moonlights as a nurse at St. Catherine's hospital in Cite Soleil, a sprawling slum of about a quarter of a million people on the cities waterfront. The only way in is by medical convoy which leaves downtown Port-au-Prince at 4:00.

LORIS DE FILIPPI: Because yesterday was a confrontation between the armed groups and UN troops in the (unintelligible) north of Cite Soleil, our usual way to enter is Cite Soleil, so we changed today the way to enter.

SHAW: The medical convoy has four Land Rovers that carry medical workers to and from the hospital. It snakes through wide abandoned streets, past UN tanks, the big water tower and through neighborhoods of burned out buildings and squat concrete homes pocked with bullet holes.

When Loris arrives at the hospital compound, a teenage boy is waiting in the emergency room, his arm in heavy bandages. He says his name is Marcelle Sanron (ph) and he's covered in blood.

MARCELLE SANRON: (Through translator) I was just standing in the road and the whites shot me for now reason. I had to lie in the road until the shooting stopped.

SHAW: Many Cite Soleil residents say UN troops, whom they call the whites, are to blame. But it is difficult to know where the bullets come from since many victims get hit with strays. Loris says that the crossfire of UN troops and armed gangs is claiming more victims everyday. In November, the hospital treated 34 gunshot wounds. In December, they treated 80. And January looks like it will bring 120 gunshot victims, the majority of whom are women and children.

DE FILIPPI: We had this young girl with a bullet in the stomach and yesterday, this is really unbelievable, but we had an infant of 11 months with a bullet in the back.

SHAW: The UN mission began in June of 2004, three months after then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile following a violent uprising. The UN goal is to stabilize the country and help it prepare for presidential elections, but this task has not been easy in Cite Soleil.

Just before midnight, a heavy round of gunfire erupts outside the hospital walls and within 15 minutes, a group of people enter carrying a young couple bleeding. They use the wooden doors of their houses as stretchers. Then gunshots ring out and everybody runs. Two nurses hide in the corner of the operating room where doctors are operating on a woman shot in the neck. They cower on their knees and say this is the first time the bullets have hit the hospital.

DE FILIPPI: I do not know actually what is happening, but we received two severely wounded people. One died a few minutes ago in the operating room. Then I went upstairs because they called me and then four bullets entered inside the hospital and they crashed the windows and they crossed completely the room and the babies, the pediatric, which is on the second floor are completely frightened and so they are just in the middle of the corridor now.

SHAW: The second floor of pediatrics has been sprayed with bullets. The windows are shattered and glass covers the floor. Loris mobilizes the nurses to bring the children into the sick ward downstairs where they will be safe. The night passes quietly, but the dawn brings new tragedy. A young woman wails, her name is Nadi Batiste (ph).

NADI BATISTE: (Speaking French)

SHAW: She says her 50-year old father has died during the night. He had gunshot wounds in his bowels and didn't survive the surgery. She said the family had to borrow money to buy blood, about $26.00. And now he's dead, she says, leaving five children and eleven grandchildren. She doesn't know how they'll survive and she says she just can't take the shooting in the slum anymore.

ER: 30. In the ER, a little boy of about five years old lies with a bullet wound in his leg on the table. He says he doesn't know his last name or where he lives; he's just called Henry (ph).

HENRY: (Speaking French)

SHAW: He says the bullets tore through the walls of his house and one of them hit his leg. As the doctor prods the wound with his fingers, Henry says the bullet feels like fire in his leg and he asks if someone has gone to get his mother.

Loris' shift ends at 9:00 and he takes the convoy back to headquarters in Petianville (ph), leaving behind Cite Soleil. He says it isn't always easy to make the transition from a war zone back to his day job.

DE FILIPPI: We are not always used to being in a hospital, which is in the middle of a very intense, scary, (bleep) and we don't have the time to spend hours, and hours on philosophical debates on if it's justified the use of bigger machine guns and big weapons in a so dense, high densely populated area.

SHAW: Loris says he just doesn't have time to mediate the conflict. All he cares about, he says, is saving its victims.

For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.

NORRIS: You can see photos of the grim scenes at St. Catherine's at our web site,

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