Haiti’s mass graves grow as doctors fear death toll will rise

2010-01-21 13:19

Workers are carving out mass graves on a hillside north of Haiti’s

capital, using earth-movers to bury 10?000 victims in a single day while relief

workers warn the death toll could increase.

Medical clinics have 12-day patient backlogs, untreated injuries

are festering and makeshift camps housing thousands of survivors could foster

disease, experts said.

“The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhea,

respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of

Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation,” said

Dr Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Doctors Without Borders in

Haiti.

Hoping to assess the scope of the crisis, World Food Program chief

Josette Sheeran planned to visit Haiti on Thursday, as did European Union aid

chief Karel De Gucht.

The death toll is estimated at 200?000, according to Haitian

government figures relayed by the European Commission, with 80?000 buried in

mass graves.

The commission now estimates 2 million homeless, up from 1.5

million, and says 250?000 are in need of urgent aid.

In the sparsely populated wasteland of Titanyen, north of

Port-au-Prince, burial workers on Wednesday said the macabre task of handling

the never-ending flow of bodies was traumatising.

“I have seen so many children, so many children. I cannot sleep at

night and, if I do, it is a constant nightmare,” said Foultone Fequiert (38) his

face covered with a T-shirt against the overwhelming stench.

The dead stick out at all angles from the mass graves – tall mounds

of chalky dirt, the limbs of men, women and children frozen together in death.

“I received 10?000 bodies yesterday alone,” said Fequiert.

Workers say they have no time to give the dead proper religious

burials or follow pleas from the international community that bodies be buried

in shallow graves from which loved ones might eventually retrieve them.

“We just dump them in, and fill it up,” said Luckner Clerzier (39)

who was helping guide trucks to another grave site farther up the road.

An Associated Press reporter counted 15 burial mounds at Clerzier’s

site, each covering a wide trench cut into the ground some 25 feet deep, and

rising 15 feet into the air. At the larger mass grave, where Fequiert toiled,

three earth-moving machines cut long trenches into the earth, readying them for

more cadavers.

Others struggle to stem the flow of the dead.

More than eight days after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, rescuers

searched late into the night for survivors with dogs and sonar equipment. A Los

Angeles County rescue team sent three dogs separately into the rubble on a

street corner in Petionville, a suburb overlooking Port-au-Prince. Each dog

picked up the scent of life at one spot.

They tested the spot and screamed into the rubble in Creole they’ve

learned: “If you hear me, bang three times.” They heard no response, but vowed

to continue.

“It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and each day the

needles are disappearing,” team member Steven Chin said.

One rescue was reported. The International Medical Corps said it

was caring for a child found in the ruins on Wednesday. The boy’s uncle told

doctors and a nurse with the Los Angeles-based organisation that relatives

pulled the 5-year-old from the wreckage of his home after searching for a week,

said Margaret Aguirre, an IMC spokeswoman in Haiti.

A Dutch adoption agency said Thursday that a mercy flight carrying

109 adopted children was on its way to the Netherlands from Port-au-Prince. The

children on board the plane were all in the process of being adopted and had

already been matched to new Dutch parents before the quake.

At the Mission Baptiste hospital south of Port-au-Prince, patients

waited on benches or rolling beds while doctors and nurses raced among them,

X-rays in hand.

The hospital had just received badly needed supplies from soldiers

of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, but hospital director John Angus said

there wasn’t enough.

He pleaded for more doctors, casts and metal plates to fix broken

limbs.

Meanwhile, a flotilla of rescue vessels led by the US hospital ship

Comfort steamed into Port-au-Prince harbour on Wednesday to help fill gaps in

the struggling global effort to deliver water, food and medical help.

Elder, of Doctors Without Borders, said that patients were dying of

sepsis from untreated wounds and that some of the group’s posts had 10 to 12-day

backups of patients.

Adding to the terror, a 5.9-magnitude aftershock rocked Haiti’s

capital on Wednesday, sending people screaming into the streets. Some buildings

collapsed and an undertaker said one woman died of a heart attack.

Surgical teams and patients were forced to evacuate temporarily

from at least one hospital.

At UN headquarters in New York, humanitarian chief John Holmes said

it was believed that 3 million people are affected. Vast, makeshift camps and

settlements have sprung up for survivors.

Joseph St. Juste and his 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, were among

50?000 people spending their nights at a golf course. He is afraid to stay in

his home because of the aftershocks.

The survivors have put up shelters of bedsheets or cardboard boxes

on fairways that snake up the hill toward a country club where US paratroopers

give out food daily.

St. Juste, a 36-year-old bus driver, wakes up every day and goes

out to find food and water for his daughter.

“I wake up for her,” he said. “I’ve got to get out of Haiti. There

is no life in Haiti.”

Follow City Press on Twitter.


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