On Thursday, relief efforts for Haiti’s victims of a devastating earthquake and tropical storm started flowing faster into the country, but it was still difficult to get food and medical attention to everyone who needed it due to the nation’s deep poverty, insecurity, and lack of basic infrastructure.
More than 2,100 people were killed in the weekend earthquake, which left behind a southwestern peninsula that was home to private relief supplies as well as shipments from the U.S. government. The need was great, made more acute by Tropical Storm Grace’s rains, and people were becoming frustrated at the slow pace.
Adding to the problems, a major hospital in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where injured from the earthquake zone in the southwestern peninsula were being sent, was closed Thursday for a two-day shutdown to protest the kidnapping of two doctors, including one of the country’s few orthopedic surgeons.
The abductions were a blow to efforts to curb criminal violence, which has threatened disaster response efforts at Port-au-Prince.
Late Wednesday, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake at 2,189. It also reported that 12,268 people had been injured. Serge Chery, the head of civil defense in the Southern Province (which includes Les Cayes), said that 300 people remain missing.
According to official estimates, more than 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake, rendering approximately 30,000 families homeless. Schools, hospitals, offices, and churches were also destroyed or severely damaged.
According to Maj. General Hank Taylor, the U.S. has sent several helicopters and other aircraft to help move relief supplies and personnel into the disaster zone. The USS Arlington was also dispatched to provide additional transport and medical capabilities.
Thursday saw the arrival of a U.S. helicopter with medical equipment, volunteers and medicine. Monte Oitker, who is a biomedical techniek with the organization, stated that volunteers had been trained to run a self-contained unit capable of performing a wide range of orthopedic procedures.
It will be harder to distribute aid to thousands of homeless people.
Chery stated that officials hope to clear areas where homes have been destroyed so residents can build temporary shelters.
He said, “It will be simpler to distribute aid if people live at their addresses, instead of in a tent.”
Tensions over the slow distribution have been growing in the region hardest hit by Saturday’s earthquake. People gathered at the Les Cayes airport in the southwest to watch aid being loaded onto trucks. Police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd of young men.
Angrily angry crowds also gathered at the city’s collapsed buildings, demanding temporary shelters from Grace’s heavy rain.
According to international aid workers, hospitals in the hardest-hit areas are often incapacitated and many need to be transferred to the capital to receive treatment. It is not easy to reach Port-au-Prince by car from the southwest because of the poor roads and gangs.
Even though there was a truce between gangs following the earthquake, kidnapping continues to be a threat. This is evident by the seizure at Port-au-Prince’s Bernard Mevs Hospital, where approximately 50 victims of the earthquake were being treated.
Another problem was in the southern provinces that were quake-damaged. National police reported that villagers had put up roadblocks to block aid from reaching them, and that they needed help.
Marie-Michelle Verrier, spokeswoman for National Police, said that “for those people who block roads at their leisure in order to stop it(aid) from reaching the people, we need to wait until aid comes to us.” Special police units will be used to transport aid shipments, she said. Verrier claimed that 22 prisoners had escaped the Les Cayes prison after the earthquake.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry stated Wednesday that his administration would not “repeat history regarding the mismanagement or coordination of aid.” This was a reference to the devastating earthquake in 2010, when the government and its international partners failed to provide assistance to the poor amid widespread destruction and misery.
The Core Group, an international coalition of diplomats from the U.S., and other countries that monitor Haiti, stated in a statement that they are “resolutely dedicated to working alongside national authorities to ensure that the impacted people and areas get adequate assistance as quickly as possible.”
Henry seemed unwilling to accept the suggestion of some officials to end the search phase to allow heavy machinery to clear the rubble.
“Some of our citizens remain under the debris. He said that there are teams of Haitians and foreigners working on the matter.
He also called for unity.
Henry stated, “We must work together to rebuild Haiti.” Henry said, “The country has been physically and mentally devastated.”