In Leogane, Haiti, rebuilding starts with scavenging
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
LEOGANE, HAITI -- Townspeople say as many as 500 nuns, priests and students were crushed to death when the cream-colored walls of the Sainte Rose de Lima School collapsed in last Tuesday's earthquake, a disaster that destroyed the emotional and physical centerpiece of this city.
Six days later, mourning has given way to scavenging, as scores of men and women on Monday swarmed the pile of tin, timber, tiny desks and metal chairs to pry loose anything useful. The debris of Leogane's best school is now building the refugee camps rising in nearby parks and cane fields.
A trickle of outside help began to arrive Monday in this once-graceful city about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital. No one here is expecting much more, even though by some official assessments the damage to towns across Haiti's southern provinces may exceed that of the ruined capital.
"There's been none so far," said Jacques Marcelius, a fisherman who was using a door latch as a crowbar to pry apart boards. "And we're not able to wait any more."
A town in which everyone lost someone in the quake, Leogane has come alive with the energy and enterprise that comes with knowing you're on your own. This provincial hub immediately west of the quake's epicenter, and dozens of other towns along Haiti's southern finger, has been reduced to chunks and masonry, lumber and dust, leaving thousands dead.
Small international medical teams are just now arriving, and they have been quickly overwhelmed by the number of severely injured. Given the extent of the damage to the capital, Haiti's provinces, historically forgotten by the central government, fear they have been overlooked again at this moment of dire need.
"It's beginning to move in here slowly," said Pete Buth of Doctors Without Borders, the medical organization. "But I'm not going to tell you it's still any good."
Buth's team arrived Sunday evening, five days after the quake. Surgical teams from Japan and Argentina pulled in Monday, setting up an operating suite inside the hospital compound where hundreds of families now live in makeshift shelters.
Scores lined up to enter the mobile clinic, surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire. Two men ran toward the surgery area carrying a wooden rocking chair. In it sat a boy, 8, his lifeless legs dangling in front of him.
Buth said his team found that most of the injured had been untreated for days. The team cared for more than 70 people with severe infections and crushed limbs within five hours, then mysteriously ran out of patients.
"We took a walk through the tents and found dozens of injured who couldn't make it even the 50 yards to get inside the hospital for care," he said. "That's indicative of what's out there in this city. Many people just can't get here."
Heading west from Port-au-Prince, traffic slows along a two-lane highway, where large cracks have opened since the quake. In several places, hillsides have tumbled into the road, complicating the delivery of water, food and U.N. peacekeepers deployed to protect the aid workers and medical teams.