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Haiti, one month after

euronews

Earthquake in Haiti

We start this report on the Haiti earthquake here in Jimani on the border of the Dominican Republic.  Like everywhere in Haiti, life in this town has been dominated by the earthquake ever since the tragedy happened on 12th January.  A week after the earthquake, injured people are still arriving at the hospital.

There are hundreds of disorientated, exhausted people here with serious injuries, both physical and psychological.  Many of them have waited days for medical treatment, entire families, orphans, confused old people who still don’t understand what happened.  We saw infections, amputations, deep cuts being stitched without anaesthetic... 

 

Haiti has not traditionally been on good terms with their neighbours, the Dominican Republic, but the squabbles fell by the wayside as Dominicans rushed to help.  Hundreds of volunteer doctors, many of them so young that they’ve only just finished their studies, arrived in Haiti - only to be overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. 

 

We talked to medic Marcos González:

 

Euronews: "What is the most frequent injury?"

 

M.G: Amputations, infected wounds which haven’t been treated...

 

Euronews: And in many cases, there’s nothing you can do, is that it?"

 

M.G: "That’s it."

 

Euronews: "So this is a first assessment then?  THis is where you see what you can do in terms of first aid and then send them on to better equipped hospitals?"

 

M.G: "In theory, yes."

 

Confronting the reality of the earthquake is hard.  We still can’t imagine what is waiting for us over the border.  

 

We are waiting for dawn to cross the frontier.  It’s closed at night, but opens every day.  It’s not safe to travel to Port au Prince alone so we’re going oin a convoy organised by a doctor, Cruz Jiminian, from Saint-Domingue, who is taking aide to people in the capital.  He tells us that the destruction in Port-au-Prince is colossal:  "When we cross the frontier, in a few minutes, we’ll see people still trapped in the rubble, hospitals that collasped on top of children.  Complete destruction."

 

In two hours we’ll cross the frontier and we prepare ourselves mentally.  The next stage starts with a prayer.  Lilian Vernet is part of the same convoy:   "I wanna pray that we find my aunt, that everything is okay, and that Port-au-Prince isn’t as bad as they say it is.  We pray for Delmas, Pétionville and all the little cities like Carrefour. Amen."

 

On the way we meet a group of New Yorkers who originally came from Haiti and who are on their way to Port-au-Prince.  The leader is called Lilian Vernet, and she is travelling with her son.  They have spent all their savings organising this urgent trip to find her aunt, Rosana, 87, who lives in the Canapé Vert area, one of the worst affected.  Since 12th January they haven’t had any news.  Lilian knows about tragedies, she worked in the emergency teams at Ground Zero.   "But this is different," she says.  "Haiti is a poor country.  Here you measure tragedy in a different way."

 

The search for Rosana starts as soon as we arrive in Port-au-Prince. It is difficult not to get lost because nothing looks the same.  Hundreds of buildings have fallen down as we zig-zig up towards Canapé Vert. Lilian, overcome by stress and worry, tells us why she came back to Haiti. 

   

Lilian Vernet: "I was really stressed when they told me to dial  888 407 47 47. And when you dial that number they’ll give the information about your family and they’ll look.  So, when I called the first thing they asked me was, "Is your family an American citizen?"  And I said no and they came out and said well, I’m sorry, we can’t help you, we’re not going to send anyone out there.  And that made me so frustrated that I had to say, get here and find her.  Because she’s 87, you know.  She’s all alone and that’s really not fair.  I mean because of her nationality.  I mean that has nothing to do with it, you know.  She’s a person that’s involved in a tragic earthquake, you know.  She’s fragile, she’s an old woman, you know.  Sure, she’s lived a life but should it end because she’s not American?  That’s not fair." 

     

Getting out of the car Lilian says:  "I smell death.  Ok, we gotta walk the rest of the way."

 

Seeing that the language univesity has collapsed, she is shocked, but still wants to see if her aunt is by some miracle still alive. 

 

After scrambling ovre mounds of rubble, they find Lilian’s aunt.     Lilian: "I came all the way from New York to see if my aunt’s okay, if she needs my help or if she got hurt in the debris.  So whatever I’m about to see, I can’t sit and wait." 

   

They found Lilian’s aunt and she’s unhurt.

   

Lilian’s son: "We’ll all go to New York."

 

Rosana: "No, no, no..."

 

Lilian: "See?  See how strong this woman is?  She’s saying that no, she doesn’t want to go back to New York.  She wants to stay here.  You see the strength in this... this is what you call Haitian Power!"

 

A bystander comments:  "No-body came here.  You are the first foreign people to come here." 

 

A brief tour of the area and we realise just how lucky Rosana has been.  In Canapé Vert the destruction is massive, partly due to uncontrolled building on the hillside.  The stench is suffocating because four days after the earthquake,  there are still dozens of corpses in the streets.  Canapé Vert is one of the numerous places where international aid and rescue equipment, simply hasn’t arrived.  There are men and women here driven to the brink of madness because they can’t save their relations trapped under the rubble. 

 

It is chaos in Port-Au- Prince but people still have their dignity.  They bury their loved ones in makeshift graves so that they won’t be thrown into communal pits.

    

The international airport Toussaint Louverture is like being on another planet.  It’s the only place in Port-au-Prince where some infrastructure still works.  But there are co-ordination problems.  We met US Marines and rescue teams from various countries who arrived fresh and ready to work.

    

But now they are defeated and in their faces you see how powerless they feel as they work for interminable hours in impossible conditions. 

   

Aid and military personel is flooding out of the aeroplanes.  Containers of aid are stacking up but the UN obviously has serious problems organising aid in Haiti.

    

In the Bel Air district, aid distribution is also slow and disorganised.  The situation here is bad.  The earthquake has changed everything here, although one or two of the wooden, gingerbread-style houses have survived.  The bad-quality cement buildings fell down like a row of cards, including the pink cathedral.  There is destruction as far as the eye can see, and people are selling everything they have to buy food and water.  We see our first looters.

  

A group of young men risk their lives by slipping into building through the cracks into a damaged warehouse.  Boxes of powdered milk rapidly disappear. Security guards hired by the shopkeepers hide their guns when they see our camera.  But yesterday two young men were shot in the Delmas quarter.

 

Going deeper into this area, we see the bleak reality of life here.  The carbonised body of an owner is still smoking as people empty his house, taking clothes and other personal effects.

    

A hearse doesn’t pass by un-noticed in a town where there are still corpses lying in the gutter.  Port-au-Prince today is surreal.  Nothing makes sense.  

There’s practically nothing left of the Palais de  Justice except this bust of a resistance hero.  He survived, and so did Calvaire Junior, a clerk: "I was in the Palace 5 minutes before the earthquake.  I was asked to go out and get a photocopy.  So I went out, got the photocopy and then the earthquake started.  Everything started shaking and when I got back to the Palace, when I was just outsdie it, it collapsed in front of me.  God saved my life." 

  

Opposite the Palace is the prison from which 5,000 people escaped on the day of the earthquake.  Between the Palace and the prison there used to be a park which has now become a refugee camp.  There is no food, no medicine.  There are many injured people.

   

Hundreds of people live here now and many of them say they haven’t seen a single UN worker, not a single box of food, or foreign aid.  They need everything.  How can you treat a deep cut to the head when you haven’t even got disinfectant?

 

Injuries rapidly become infected.  Amputations are common.  

 

The General Hospital is one of the rare hospitals still functioning in Port-au-Prince. There are patients everywhere, in the courtyards and gardens, on stretchers or lying on the ground.

    

Gospel preachers and sermons add to the drama of these shocking scenes.

    

Passing the hospotal we hear screams and then seconds later it’s as silent as the grave.  The stench rising from the corpses lying in the sun makes us nauseous.

    

Port-au-Prince has become a refugee camp.  A family shelters under an umbrella on the Champ de Mars, a few metres away from the ruins of the Presidential Palace.  The catastrophe hasn’t made distinctions - both rich and poor have died.

   

Women sing and smile.  Life goes on, come what may.

    

There are more and more American troops in the airport everyday.  Marines control the entrances and exits. 

   

Thousands of Haitians are waiting to leave.  After endless queuing up, some tens of thousands of people are being evacuated to the US with temporary residence visas.  Priority is given to severely injured people, although we saw whole families getting into planes, apparently uninjured at all

.    

Others remain in the airport, waiting behind barriers put up by the few Haitian police patrols who pass this way.  The most desperate try to slip through the controls.

    

Most are beginning to lose patience, because only a few yards away from the airport, they still haven’t seen any aid.  Long queues form here at dawn every day.     Says one woman:  "Why did they come the foreigners?  Did they come to help us?  This is no help.  No-one has got anything.  The streets are full of children.  People are dying in the streets."   The airport pulls people out of Port-au-Prince - hoping for a job or something to eat.  Before the earthquake only 15% of Haitians had a regular job.  Now, almost no-one has a job. 

    

A few metres away at another airport gate, tension mounts when a group of Haitians looking for work start yelling near a petrol reservoir guarded by Pakistani UN soldiers.  They are outside the UN Stablisation Mission in Haiti.  Petrol in Haiti now costs ten times more than it cost before he earthquake. 

   

A man shouts:  "We don’t need our president here any more.  We need the United States.  Only the United States can save us.  I swear before God that we don’t need our president, we want the United States.  We need jobs.  We have no houses, no food.  We are starving.  We need work."   Another agrees: "Haiti has many problems right now, we need work."

 

The State has disappeared in Haiti.  President Preval, who has taken refuge in a police station with the remains of his government, has never yet been seen visiting a refugee camp.  Aid continues to flood into the airport where millions of euros-worth of humanitarian aid is accumulating, while tens of thousands of Haïtians have received precisely nothing.  The UN is bogged down in bureaucracy.   The next day we decided to go to Léogane, the epicentre of the earthquake.  On the way we saw how a simlpe water pipe cold unleash an explosion of joy.

    

An hour and a half south-west of Port au Prince, is Léogâne, a coastal town surrounded by sugarcane, cocoa and banana plantations.  Only 5-10% of the buildings are still standing.  The town is situated on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone, which responsible for the earthquake.     Elementary reconstruction has already begun - stones from the fallen houses will be used to build new ones.     In the Santa Rose de Lima church, the priest was organising teatime when the earthquake began.  Dozens of children died, as they did in the school of the same name.

   

People who survived the earthquake died waiting for help which never arrived.  International rescue teams concentrated their efforts in Port-au-Prince.     Among the ruins of the school were mothers, picking through the rubble looking for their children’s belongings.   Lots of people were camping on the school’s football pitch.  Some hope that this tragedy will bring Haiti to the world’s notice.  Their problems didn’t start with the earthquake and won’t finish when the international aid teams leave

.  

Everyone in Léogane had a story to tell.  Philippe Beaulière says a football match saved his life.  He wasn’t in the family home, which his father built 40 years ago.  The house collapsed, but it could have been worse, he says: "The worst, really the worst, isn’t the collapsed houses.  It’s finding yourself in the rubble like here.  Or over there where we spent all night saving a few people.  We managed to get perhaps three living children out of the ruins.  The worst feeling is being powerless when a child is crying for help for hours and all you have is your bare hands.  You can do nothing.  In this house here there was a woman who called for help for two days."

 

After five days in Port-au-Prince we had felt around a dozen after-shocks.  This morning the aftershock was violent enough to have been another earthquake.  In Delmas many people were injured.

   

Fear is turning into a desperate struggle for survival.  There are home-made signs everywhere.   We come across people with loaves of bread, the first we’ve seen since we arrived.  We find a bakery run by Thierry Attié, a Frenchman married to a Haitian - and unlike all other businesses they haven’t raised their prices since the earthquake.  It’s their way of helping.  Five French sticks her person is the ration but people are re-selling the bread only a few metres away.  The baker shows us a CCTV video made during the earthquake.   It’s a miracle that this bakery is still here. 

   

The worst affected by the earthquake are the children.  The poorest country in North America was already top of the list for adoptions.  Child abuse and trafficking was rife and the earthquake has only made the situation worse.  Half the injured are children.  There are legions of newly orphaned children in Port au Prince.  Orphanages are overflowing.  Amatolie Aladin is looking after 70 chlildren with nothng to give them.

 

We see the conditions they lived in before.  Now it’s worse.  The children are living in the street in rough shelters made from sticks and sheets.  Says orphanage worker, Amatolie M.Aladin: "I ask you to help us quickly and find tents for us so we can shelter the children.  We can put tents up in the middle of the street and the children can use them.  We can’t go back into the houses, we don’t know if they’re safe or not.  There’s no expert here to tell us how damaged they are."

 

Amatolie has made heroic efforts for the orphans of Caradeux.  In the daily struggle she has no time to think about herself:   "I was shaken all over and Jesus saved me.  Our house fell down and I cried out to Jesus and God saved me.  He saved my husband and my 3 year-old daughter too."   Reconstructing Haiti will be a Titanic task.  Before the earthquake there were 3 million people living in Port-au-Prince alone.  It’s a rabbit warren, with no logical layout and n the radio there are reports that the President wants to re-build further away from the fault line, and wants people to move into the countryside.  But who can do that when there aren’t any jobs? 

 

At the airport we were surprised to find that the American army had taken over and the press were being cleared out.  We had 4 hours to leave.    Some television crews left during the night but we waited til dawn.      They said it was a security problem but to us it’s obvious that we’re unwelcome because we might report the organisational chaos surrounding the international aid.  But in any case, our journey is over.   For the people of Haiti however, the long and winding road of reconstruction has hardly begun, and soon the rainy season will begin.

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Links selection

Our selections of links

Official

Useful links

Press

Web

Helping Haiti

Help Haiti links
Attention: a number of scams targeting donations to the Haiti disaster are circulating on the internet. Twitter and Facebook are among the sites to have been hit. Be careful when making a donation. Here are some links to reputable organisations to which you can safely make a contributions.

Red-Cross

  • Red-Cross US: www.redcross.org You can also text "HAITI" to "90999” to provide a $10 donation to the Red Cross, charged to your cell phone bill
  • Red-Cross UK: www.redcross.org.uk

UNICEF

Doctors without borders

UK

US

haitiInformation phone numbers
numéro d'urgence
:

  • US : 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225
  • France : 01.45.50.34.60 ou 0 810 006 330
  • Ambassade d'Haïti à Paris : 01.42.12.70.50

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Earthquake location:
haiti

Haiti earthquake

Republic of Haiti

  • Area : 27 750 km2
  • Population (2008) : 9 776 206 hab.
  • Density : 352,3 hab./km2
  • Capital : Port-au-Prince
  • Largest city : Port-au-Prince
  • President : Rene Preval
  • Prime Minister : Jean-Max Bellerive
  • Official languages : Haitian Creole, French
  • Independence from France : 1 January 1804
  • Currency :Gourde (HTG)
  • Time zone : UTC -5
  • Internet TLD : .ht
  • Calling code : +509