A frustrated Concepcia Pamphile sat outside her storm-battered administrative building with its blown-off roof and cracked walls Monday, trying to manage it all.
The ambulance was out of gas. There was no money to rent a trailer to warehouse badly needed donations from Food for the Poor. And the hospital, the town’s only public healthcare facility, was out of bleach and antibiotics.
Pamphile felt more like a traffic cop than a hospital administrator.
“You see that gas that’s burning over there?” she asked, pointing to the generator that was powering the hospital. “It’s a caesarean. After that caesarean, I don't have a [dollar] left.”
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Since Tuesday, the Saint Antoine Hospital of Jérémie has registered more than 2,200 storm-related injuries, plus 43 cholera cases, said Pamphile as she opened the oversized purse sitting in her lap, pulled out 1,000 gourdes of her own money — about $15 — out of a white envelope and handed it to the attending doctor to hire someone to clean up the yard.
“You see what I’m dealing with here,” she said. “Even if they send a container, how will I unload it? You think the government is going to facilitate this?”
Six days after Hurricane Matthew, the worst natural disaster to hit Haiti since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, it is only now that local healthcare providers are beginning to get a full picture of the storm’s human toll. Blocked by fallen trees, rocks and rising rivers, the injured are finally making their way into public hospitals to treat fractures and other ailments.
Olive Charles suffered a broken leg and back when, she said, her house collapsed under the weight of Matthew’s 145-mph winds and rains. Also inside, she said, was her 32-year-old son. He died.
“I survived, but my body’s broken,” said Charles, 54, lying on a hospital gurney, her right leg bandaged. She arrived by ambulance on Thursday, two days after the storm.
“I couldn’t get here sooner because I couldn’t walk,” she said.
Arnold Dipo said he didn’t think his injuries were that serious when a piece of debris fell on his back as he tried to seek shelter during the hurricane. Soon, however, he was spitting out blood.
He finally arrived at the hospital on Monday — six days after the storm hit — by taking a motorcycle from his destroyed home in Beaumont above the mountains of Jérémie. The road was impassable until recently, he said, and the trip still took hours.
Dr. Presendieu Ronsard said staff members are doing the best they can with buildings like the outpatient clinic and radiology damaged, and only the emergency room and maternity functioning.
“We don’t have Clorox, we don’t have antibiotics,” he said. “We don’t even have enough gas. After 7 p.m. it’s total darkness, and if you need to operate on a patient, you can’t do it.”
On Monday, the United Nations launched a $120 million humanitarian appeal in Geneva to help fund its emergency response in Haiti over the next three months.
“Needs are growing as more affected areas are reached. Tensions are already mounting as people await help,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday as he appealed to the international community for aid. “A massive response is required.”
Residents continued to set up street barricades, blocking parts of the mountain road that connects Jérémie with Les Cayes by using tree limbs and rocks. Tensions also were mounting at a port where aid was being loaded onto a boat headed for Pestel.
Lawmaker Ronald Etienne said the aid was moving too slowly and that “authorities no longer have an excuse because the roads are starting to open.”
“Humanitarian aid hasn’t yet reached Pestel,” Etienne said. “We have a lot of people who are victims, a lot of people who died.”
The Office of Civil Protection reported that the number of people seeking shelter since Matthew has sharply risen in recent days. There are more than 175,000, the government agency said, with nearly 100,000 of them in the hard hit Grand’Anse region.
The agency also reported 246 injuries — far less than the Jérémie public hospital has received. The official death toll now stands at 372. The unofficial count is more than double that.
Pamphile, the hospital administrator, said what she needs most is the money to manage the hospital’s day-to-day operations. She also needs workers.
“All of my personnel are victims,” she said. “It’s terrible what has happened here.”
Though help may not be coming fast enough for the people of Jérémie, it is coming. Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, in a stopover at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base base following a tour of the damaged westernmost tip of Haiti, called it the situation there a “massive humanitarian disaster.”
He called it “heartbreaking,” noting those hit were “people who don’t have a lot to begin with. It is really, really difficult. The people on the western end for all intents and purposes have been cut off for the last few days,” he said.
But as of Monday, he said, a dozen U.S. heavy-lift military helicopters, both U.S. Marines and Army, were moving “tens of thousands of pounds of relief supplies” into areas that are cut off by washed out bridges and mudslides. He listed the relief — food, water, blankets, shelter.
Tidd said he envisioned the U.S. military-led effort would last two weeks, ending on Oct. 19. International relief organizations are also bringing in supplies and helicopters to handle the mission.
“The U.S. military mission will be somewhat limited in duration,” he said. “Once the international organizations are in place, they will take over the responsibility.”
He said the need is more for supplies than for healthcare, although a Colombian offshore patrol vessel was en route with doctors and relief, and the Netherlands was sending a ship from the Netherlands Antilles with relief supplies.
Miami Herald staff writer Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report.