Waiting for help
Haitians struggle to find the dead and keep survivors alive after earthquake
Friday, January 15, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Desperate Haitians clawed at the rubble of their ruined capital for a second day Thursday, retrieving their dead and rescuing the living, as an international armada of ships and aircraft struggled to provide food, water, medicine and shelter.
Forty-eight hours after much of the impoverished Caribbean nation was devastated by an earthquake, it was mainly the people of this shattered city, working with bare hands and simple tools, who pulled at slabs of concrete and blocks of debris to get at those still trapped.
The dead and injured were pushed through the streets in wheelbarrows. At the overwhelmed central hospital, anguished patients lay in a weedy parking lot on gurneys fashioned from wooden doors. Calls for help went unanswered, and no doctors were in sight.
Even as a 90,000-ton American nuclear aircraft carrier was expected Friday, and transport planes arrived from as far away as China and Belgium, the first shipments of aid were just starting to reach the stunned nation.
There were scant signs of help from the Haitian government, itself scattered by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake Tuesday evening. The streets were filled with beleaguered residents milling about, left with no jobs, no instructions on what to do, and no place to buy food or to take the injured. Many said they felt totally alone and saw no evidence that relief was on the way, as their mournful pleas began to give way to anger.
"The government is mute," a dismayed young Haitian said while he hurried past a body left on a traffic median. "They do nothing."
Further hampering relief efforts, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily stopped all private and humanitarian flights from the United States to Haiti's clogged airports for slightly more than five hours on Thursday, allowing only military planes, at the request of the Haitian government, a U.S. official said. Nine planes from the United States were already in the air when FAA issued the order, the official said. They could not land in Haiti.
Despite the arrival of some aid and rescue teams on Thursday, Port-au-Prince remained a haunted place of destruction, with many of its pastel buildings collapsed into death traps.
A Haitian Red Cross official said the quake may have killed as many as 50,000 people.
Across the sprawling city, makeshift citizen rescue crews squirmed through openings in the debris and past bodies to search for survivors. The living cried with joy when they were extricated. The dead were stacked on streets and sidewalks, some victims covered with blankets or cardboard, or bound in winding sheets.
Many of the deceased remained in the rubble, with an arm protruding here, a leg there.
In a collapsed school, the body of a student was slumped over what appeared to be a desk -- her dark-blue jumper and pink blouse covered in white dust.