Haiti After the Earthquake
LEOGANE, Haiti—When Elvis Cineus rushed to his home in the town of Leogane, 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince, in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake, he was not prepared for what awaited him.
Under the remains of his home, smashed flat as if pummeled by a giant fist, lay the bodies of his wife, his nephew, his cousin, and a friend, all dead. His 1-year-old son was dangling from the building's jagged facade, injured but alive.
"It was a miracle," he says of the infant's survival. "But I think there are still survivors in the fallen schools, because we still hear them screaming."
This coastal town, once one of the most pleasant in Haiti, was largely decimated by the quake. The International Federation of Red Cross estimates that as much as 90 percent of the town has been destroyed.
Along Leogane's Grand Rue, once-stately concrete buildings lie in rubble, with only a few structures built in Haiti's distinctive wooden gingerbread style remaining. The putrid smell of death wafts through the lanes, helped along by an ocean breeze.
At a ruined dental clinic, a woman cries when she tells how a neighbor died after her leg was severed by falling debris and how the neighbor's child, a little girl, took off screaming down the street.
"It's beyond chaos, beyond catastrophe," says Michael Moscoso, a local businessman. "The losses cannot be numbered."
One week after the earthquake flattened large swaths of central Port-au-Prince, people beyond the capital and closer to the epicenter have grown ever more desperate as much-promised aid has been slow to trickle in or has failed to materialize altogether.
In the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the capital's southern Carrefour neighborhood, several hundred people lay on makeshift surgical tables, on benches, or sprawled on the floor. Half a dozen people groaned with severe suppurating burn wounds caused when a gas cylinder exploded during the great tremor. Nine-year-old Michel St. Franc lay with blood caking his face, his leg in a primitive cast and tears in his eyes.
"This is the worst situation I've ever seen," says Julien Mattar, project coordinator for the hospital. "We have huge needs in terms of human resources, medical supplies, and materials."
Mattar tells me that a supply plane that was unable to land in Port-au-Prince was instead rerouted to the Dominican Republic. From there, the supplies made the seven-hour overland journey to Haiti.
The injured who were able to reach the hospital were the lucky ones. Farther down the road, both the living and the dead waited for respite in the form of assistance from the international community or from the government of Haitian President René Préval, who has faced withering criticism at home for his perceived lax and disorganized response to the disaster.
Along the Route des Rails, almost every home seemed to have been destroyed, and, again, the intense smell of decay intensified under a glaring Caribbean sun. Residents say they feel abandoned.
"No one has ever been here," Vilaire Elise, a 38-year-old Protestant minister, said as he led a visitor and fellow residents to survey homes where his neighbors had died. "We have no water to drink, nor food to eat. We are suffering here."
Though nearly 105,000 food rations and 20,000 tents had been distributed by humanitarian groups on Monday, the effort seemed unable to come to grips with the scale of the disaster. The U.N. World Food Program has said it will need 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days.
The growing foreign military presence in Haiti, which has played host to a U.N. peacekeeping mission since 2004 and will now house at least 2,000 U.S. troops, also seemed overwhelmed.
Late on Monday, with the sun setting outside Leogane, in a scene reminiscent of others played out in severely war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 1,500 townsfolk rendered homeless by the quake took over a flat patch of grassy land and constructed fragile shelters from logs, twigs, bed sheets, and leaves.
"Since the disaster, everyone here has had nothing," said Innocent Wilson, a 31-year-old who acts as one of the impromptu camp's spokesmen. "No one is here to help us, so we are organizing ourselves."
Michael Deibert is the author of Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.