January 19, 2010

HAITI: 'Worst thing God has ever sent'

. AUCKLAND, New Zealand / The NZHerald.co.nz / World / January 19, 2010 Haiti quake: 'Worst thing God has ever sent' By Alfred de Montesquiou The old lady crawls in the dirt, wailing for her pills. The elderly man lies motionless as rats pick at his overflowing nappy. There is no food, water or medicine for the 84 surviving residents of Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home, barely a kilometre from the airport where a massive international aid effort is taking shape. An old woman sits alone outside the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home. Photo / AP "Help us, help us," 69-year-old Mari-Ange Levee begged yesterday, lying on the ground with a broken leg and ribs. A cluster of flies swarmed the open fracture in her skull. One man had already died, and administrator Jean Emmanuel said more would follow soon unless water and food arrive immediately. "I appeal to anybody to bring us anything, or others won't live until tonight," he said, motioning towards five men and women who were having trouble breathing, a sign that the end was near. Hours later, an elderly woman succumbed. The dead man was Joseph Julien, a 70-year-old diabetic who was pulled from the partially collapsed building and passed away on Friday through lack of food. His rotting body lies on a mattress, nearly indistinguishable from the living around him, so skinny and tired they seem, simply waiting for death. Madeleine Dautriche, 75, said some of the residents had pooled their money to buy three packets of pasta, which the dozens of pensioners shared on Friday, their last meal. Since there was no drinking water, some didn't touch the noodles because they were cooked in gutter water. Though very little food aid had reached Haitians anywhere, Emmanuel said the problem was worse at the nursing home because it is located near Place de la Paix, an impoverished downtown neighbourhood. The hospice, known as "Hospice Municipal", is in the Delmas-2 neighbourhood stuck between the port and Bel-Air, traditionally one of Haiti's most violent and dangerous slums. Thousands of homeless slum dwellers have pitched their makeshift tents on the nursing home's grounds, in effect blocking the elderly patients from the outside world with a tense maze of angry people, themselves hungry and thirsty. "I'm pleading for everyone to understand that there's a truce right now ... so you can come through to help us," said Emmanuel, 27, one of the rare officials not to have fled the squalor and mayhem. Violent scuffles erupted on Saturday in the adjacent soccer stadium when US helicopters dropped boxes of military rations and Gatorade. But none of this trickle of help had reached the nursing home residents, who said some refugees have robbed them of what little they had. Dautriche, who was sitting on the ground because of her broken back, held out an empty blue plastic basin. "My underwear and my money were in there," she said, sobbing. "Children stole it right in front of me and I couldn't move." Trying to guard the centre was Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, who couldn't stand because of pain but who brandished her walking stick when children approached. "Of all the wars and revolutions and hurricanes, this quake is the worst thing God has ever sent us," Thermiti said. Initially, Thermiti and others believed their relatives would come to feed them, because many live in the slums nearby. "But I don't even know if my children are alive," she said. One of the struggling residents had died by nightfall. Tsida-Edith Andre, about 90, had been too old and too weak to hold out through the afternoon heat, said Nixon Plantain, a hospice cleaner who was planning to spend the night there. Next to him, Michele Lina, 22, was spoon-feeding boiled rice to her paralysed grandfather in a wheelchair. Plantain said she was the first relative to have come with food. He helped Lina give out tiny mouthfuls to others. That food, along with a carton of water bottles brought by an AP reporter, was the only aid the residents received, Plantain said. The cleaner-turned-caretaker tried to pour a trickle of water into the mouth of Mesalia Joseph, one of a small group he said probably wouldn't make it through the night. "Don't give me any," Joseph mumbled, saying she was too hungry to drink. Curled in a fetal position, she seemed to have already given up. [rc] - AP Copyright 2010, APN Holdings NZ Limited RELATED: Photo Gallery: The Fight for Life and Control A crowd clamors for aid in Port-au-Prince: People are fighting for the limited food and medicine that is being distributed. AFP