Hundreds gather in Port-au-Prince to bury archbishop killed in quake

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 23, 2010; 6:45 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Hundreds of the capital's Catholic faithful gathered Saturday to bury Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, killed with scores of parishioners when the Jan. 12 earthquake broke apart the cathedral where he worked and prayed.

For the service, wooden pews from the ruined church, where countless bodies remain entombed beneath pale pink rubble and shattered stained glass, were set out in the broad courtyard in front of the cathedral.

Amid blooming oleander bushes and the occasional pop of gunfire from the volatile business district nearby, politicians and diplomats, seminarians and novices prayed, sang and remembered Miot and Bishop Charles Benoit, the city's vicar general, who was also crushed to death in the quake. His body lay in a white casket, topped with a spray of bright flowers, next to the one holding the archbishop.

"If Monsignor Miot were alive, he would tell us to have courage, to be strong in starting over," said Marie-Andre Baril, 53, a bank teller whose home was destroyed in the quake.

"With my faith, I hope to have what he would want us to have. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying here." The devout Catholic population of this city has lost the head of its church, a vivid example of one of the quake's cruelest outcomes. Many of those killed were the very people who, in times of tragedy, would be sought out for solace and explanation.

The Haitian government Saturday placed the death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake at 111,000 and rising, the vast majority of the victims from the capital, where up to a third of the country's people once lived.

And Saturday, a day after the government called off the search for survivors, another was found.

Greek TV journalists covering the looting in the city's commercial district heard from the crowd that there was someone calling out from the Napoli Hotel restaurant. The journalists heard him too and called the Greek search and rescue team.

Three members of the team showed up.

"We had to go through five lots of looters. There were guns firing off and people with knives . . . It was crazy wild," said Carmen Michalska, a Scottish member of team. "We called in for help but most of the teams are packing up to go to the airport."

Rescuers found a Haitian man in his mid-20s in what appeared to be a hair salon."There wasn't any food in there, it's shampoo and hair dye. He was dydrated but smiling," Michalska said. He told rescuers there were at least five others in hotel but there were no other signs of life.

The United Nations and other international agencies say 609,000 Haitians have been displaced by the quake and remain without adequate shelter. That figure has declined in recent days, with more than 100,000 Haitians having left the capital to stay with family in the provinces.

Food distribution points were more visible in Port-au-Prince, although the prices of basic commodities in the markets remained at inflated post-quake rates. In the past, high food prices have caused riots here, and international officials are mindful of the security problems that scarcity could cause.

There were few reports of looting in the commercial center. But international officials say some of the prisoners who escaped from the downtown penitentiary after its collapse have returned to their neighborhoods and are attempting to reconstitute criminal gangs.

Witnesses said Saturday that looters were responsible for setting several large fires in downtown businesses and warehouses the previous evening. They are doing so, witnesses said, to scare off passersby before beginning their work. There are fears that the fires could become a nightly occurrence.

But some intact businesses are preparing to open this week. Among them are Haiti's banks, many of them badly damaged and stripped of cash reserves. Those that remain standing are replenishing vaults with the help of U.S. security forces, who were scheduled Saturday to protect the delivery of $2 million to a dozen banks.

Haitians opened corner kitchens around the Champs de Mars, the vast central square that has become the site of a makeshift camp whose sanitation is deteriorating daily. They ladled out bowls of beans and rice, cooked over small charcoal grills, to dozens of Haitians who have yet to receive aid rations.

In a sign of small progress, more Coleman tents appeared among the bedsheets and blankets strung up for shelter, evidence that some relief supplies are reaching people most in need. Hundreds of Haitians assembled for a day of prayer on in the Champs de Mars, mourning together for hours after a heartbreaking few days.

A few blocks away, in the shadow of the cathedral, Miot, 63, was remembered as someone the city would usually rely on during such a desperate time.

A pastor devoted to the poor, a shy man who came alive in moments of need, he died in his church, among the people he sought to guide through the tragedies, man-made and natural, that too often shake this country.

The cathedral sits at the heart of the city on a gradual slope that runs down to the sea. The building fell in chunks, but what remains of its profile still cuts a jagged line across the pale sky above the crumbled homes and businesses around it.

The church's Potemkin facade has nothing behind it. Its shattered rose windows are shot through with flat morning sunlight.

Near what was the altar, a tangle of bodies remains uncollected and rotting after 11 days in the heat. Those parishioners nearly escaped the falling walls, and now remain trapped just feet from the large door leading outside.

Hundreds of Haitians made their way from makeshift camps amid the rising tide of garbage and waste to the service, dressed in dark suits and spotless dresses. They lowered their surgical masks, standard wear here to ward off the nauseating smell of death, as they took seats in pews or folding metal chairs.

"You will never find another man like him," said Eric Bruno, a 48-year-old mechanic in a gray wool suit despite the gathering heat. "He would have been the first person here to help, trying to get people everything they need."

Many pushed handkerchiefs to wet eyes, as the Haitian National Police played somber hymns. Rows of nuns worked their rosaries in small, rough hands. The music stopped, and people began singing the words of Psalm 33, a favorite of Miot. "We are all in pain, but we are all united by this," Bishop Joseph Lafontant told the mourners in eulogizing Miot. "We are, all of us, equal. We're all hit by this tragedy. Everyone feels this pain."

Staff writer William Booth contributed to this report.

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