Port-au-Prince is a vision from Dante

France’s newspaper Le Monde, in an article by Jean-Michel Caroit, offers a haunting picture of the destruction of Port-su-Prince. Here is a hasty translation:

Everywhere there is rubble, bodies lined up on the sidewalks, screams of pain and calls for help. On Wednesday afternoon, in the wake of the violent earthquake that devastated Haiti, the capital, Port-au-Prince, is the picture of desolation, with no emergency aid in sight. Haitians and the UN in Haiti (MINUSTAH) appear to be totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster that has brutally hit the poorest country in the Americas. Telephone communications are cut, and only a few radio stations continue to inform the population.

Desperate testimonies follow one another on the radio, people looking for parents buried in the collapse of hundreds of buildings. On one of the stations of the capital, the filmmaker Arnold Antonin, speaking on behalf of his fellow citizens, launched an urgent appeal to the authorities, still silent 24 hours after the tragedy. There is no equipment to move the tons of rubble.

The MINUSTAH has not been spared by the earthquake: a hundred members perished when the Christopher hotel, which housed its headquarters, collapsed. According to unconfirmed rumours circulating around the Haitian capital, its leader, the Tunisian Hedi Hannabi, could be among the victims.

No one is ready to venture a preliminary assessment of the disaster. Judging from the word in the streets, there are countless bodies under the rubble. “More than 20 % of the capital’s housing is destroyed or severely damaged,” suggests Georges, journalist, historian and physician. “This is dantesque, nothing ever seen before,” he adds.

IMPROVISED CAMP

In the Delmas boulevard, a broad avenue linking the centre of  Port-au-Prince to the suburb of Pétionville, thousands of people stream by with whatever meagre possessions they have saved. Looking haggard, they walk up and down the avenue, not knowing where to take refuge.

One is pushing a corpe hastily wrapped in jute on a handcart. Two young people carry their grandmother, who has a head injury and is dressed in a pink night shirt, on a plastic chair. “The hospitals in the lower part of town have been destroyed,” one of them said. Frightened by strong aftershocks which persisted 24 hours after the first quake, most people slept outside. The grounds of the Saint-Louis de Gonzague School, next to a police station that has been completely destroyed, is transformed into a vast improvised camp.

The camp’s inhabitants, whose humble homes have been wiped out by the earthquake, lay down on pieces of cardboard, or on the bare ground, sometimes covering their faces with a piece of cloth. Soccer field, a crossroad, every available space is now part of an improvised encampment where the victims of the earthquake are deprived of everything, including food and water.

On Christophe Avenue, the Jean-Jacques Dessalines school has collapsed. “It had several stories, many students are dead,” says Jean Exeme Lundy. “I lost my brother Auguste and my godchild Nick,” he adds.

A little further along, on Capois Street, chaos reigns at the Holy Spirit hospital. The building, shaken by the earthquake, is closed and dozens of people, some of them seriously injured, lie on the ground before the front gate. Fransa Jety, a very young womanthrows herself at the door, screaming: “Help me find antibiotics, my young daughter is dying of tetanus,” she implores.

The girl, partly naked, lies on a piece of cardboard, shaking with violent chills. Dr. Sintécile Benjamin appears helpless. “I came as a volunteer, but we have nothing, no equipment, no drugs.” Many have broken limbs, like Richard Sony, whose legs are broken, or Monine Leblanc, four months pregnant and sobbing deeply.

CORPSES LINING THE ROAD

The situation is no less chaotic at the hospital installed by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in a large building at Pacot. The other hospital opened by MSF at the bottom of the city, Trinidé, was destroyed by the earthquake, as was the General Hospital.

Dozens of people are tapping on the metal door of the Pacot hospital. A woman, her foot pierced by a large tin can, limps to the door. A pick-up truck filled with bodies approaches. The courtyard is full of wounded people. “We are overwhelmed, fortunately reinforcements will come soon”, said a young French MSF doctor. Lionel Dervil, a 38-year-old merchant, has come with a neighbour to attempt to recover the corpse of his wife. “They tell us that they must first deal with the injuries, they have no time for the dead,” the neighbor, Samuel Alexandre, says impatiently.

Corpses are lined up alongside the road that goes down to the Canapé Vert neighbourhood. The slum that climbed the hill to the left looks like it was bombed. Most of the improvised small houses have collapsed. Most service stations have run out of fuel. There are long lines waiting at those that still have some. Small-time speculators are charging twice the usual price for the precious liquid.

The original article (in French) can be found at http://www.lemonde.fr/ameriques/article/2010/01/14/a-port-au-prince-une-situation-dantesque_1291414_3222.html#ens_id=1290927

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