The death toll in Haiti rose to 17 on Monday and the number of injured people doubled after disaster response volunteers were finally able to reach some remote communities affected by Saturday’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked the northern region.
A total of 333 people were injured, the Office of Civil Protection said, as it began the painstaking process of trying to coordinate assistance from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other aid groups while also figuring out how to get assistance to those who lost homes during the tremor or remained too afraid to sleep inside.
“We are in the streets. We don’t have anywhere to live. Our home is destroyed,” said Agathe Beaubrun, after arriving at Port-de-Paix’s main public hospital, Immaculate Conception Hospital, for medical attention. “All of the children are crying. We don’t know what to do.”
After two days of searching for victims of the disaster, the country moved into a response phase Monday. The government faced two challenges: attending to the injured and managing fears.
“Everything we see on the route to Port-de-Paix is rice and water. That is not the priority,” said Sen. Evalière Beauplan, an opposition member of parliament who represents the northwest. Rather, he said, the most critical need “is to treat the people who have been injured. It’s doctors, nurses, tents that the people need. Up until now, you don’t see any tents arriving for the people.”
Frustrations over the slow response were apparent elsewhere.
In Pilate, a rural community outside the northern city of Cap-Haitien, a member of the Lower Chamber of Deputies took to the radio pleading for help, saying that many of the 21 people injured in the area couldn’t get to emergency medical services because of an overflowing river.
“Practically all of the infrastructure has been damaged,” Deputy Worms Perilus later told the Miami Herald, saying that about 500 families were affected, 476 buildings were damaged and 57 homes were destroyed in the area.
Over in hard-hit Port-de-Paix, where at least eight people died and scores of the injured were initially turned away from the main public hospital on Saturday night, the plea was for tents and patients.
“Because the buildings have cracks, the staff doesn’t want to enter,” said Dr. Rubens Pierre, standing near one of four tents in the yard. “If we could find tents, that would help us and allow us to work better and give those who are sick a certain assurance of receiving the care that they need.”
While some patients rested on beds, others lay on the ground, moaning in pain from broken limbs caused by falling concrete and metal.
Pierre said the hospital, which was slated to be rebuilt, was in bad shape before the earthquake and now was even worse. “We would like to provide care,” he said. “Those of us who are here and working in the emergency area are making a lot of effort to provide care to those who are sick — even before the quake. And we’re doing it with very little means.”
Hospital director Saeely Polycarpe confirmed that doctors were forced to abandon the hospital on Saturday after injured patients crowded inside during a power outage and acted aggressively toward doctors.
Police were called and, by Sunday, the staff was back in control. But then another quake, a 5.2 aftershock, hit around 4 p.m.
“Everyone ran out. All of the patients ran out and said they will not return,” Polycarpe said.
He has since installed a tent in the yard, big enough to accommodate about 15 patients. But the patients, fearful that the hospital’s damaged infrastructure might crumble, have been slow to come.
Still, he said, the hospital was asking anyone who has a tent to bring it to the grounds.
But on Sunday, Haiti’s government ordered the police to interdict any aid convoys that do not have permission from the Office of Civil Protection to deliver aid. That’s to prevent the kind of problems, officials said, that have occurred in Haiti during past disasters, when aid groups and NGOs went directly to communities to distribute aid without any coordination.
When Hurricane Matthew hit the south and Grand Anse regions of the country two years ago, for example, some communities received lots of assistance while others got none. But restricting the aid distribution requires coordination by the government, which is not known for working with urgency or having strong institutions. Some also fear that the governmental restrictions on aid groups could dissuade some from helping.
Others, however, welcomed the announcement and believe it will prevent a duplication of effort.
“We, the partners, need to be supportive of the lead role of the government,” said Mamadou Diallo, deputy special representative of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti.
Diallo said the U.N. had deployed a trauma surgeon and other medical staff to the affected region, and plans to send out more teams on Tuesday to assist the Office of Protection Civil with its needs assessment.
The number of damaged or destroyed homes is still being assessed. The government said at least 168 houses were destroyed and 2,280 were damaged in the northern region, which has a population of about 3.2 million and some of Haiti’s poorest communities. More than 7,700 families are in urgent need of assistance.
“We think it’s a good step for the Office of Civil Protection to be coordinating that, making sure organizations work together to have maximized coverage,” said Beth Carroll, response coordinator for Haiti for Catholic Relief Services. “It should make us faster.”
Carroll said CRS is working closely with the government, and following a preliminary assessment meeting Sunday, they were pulling tents out of their Haiti warehouse for Port-de-Paix.
A preliminary assessment by CRS teams sent to the northwest almost immediately after the quake has triggered concern over access to emergency medical services.
“The main hospitals there are reporting that they have limited capacity to respond to the needs,” said Robyn Fieser, CRS’ regional marketing manager for Latin America and the Caribbean. Fieser said her teams were at the Port-de-Paix hospital on Sunday as tremors continued.
“The hospital received further damage and people there remain very tense with fear there will be another earthquake. Many of the injuries in the [northern region] are being attributed to panic and resulting accidents, so we know there are very real consequences of this fear,” she said.
Additional help continues to arrive. Florida-based Food For The Poor said it is flying 10 pallets of kerosene stoves, canned sausages, blankets, flashlights with batteries and personal hygiene items into Haiti, with eight pallets of tarps also headed to the charity’s offices in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien. Additional kerosene stoves shipped to Haiti prior to the earthquake also are being directed to the relief effort.
Cuba also said it sent two mobile surgical teams to earthquake-ravaged areas of northwestern Haiti early Sunday to assist Haitian healthcare workers.
Cuban state media reported that one team had operated on a Haitian doctor at the La Providence hospital in Gonaives where other patients, most from the Gros-Morne community, also were seen. The other surgical team began working in Port-de-Paix, where they had already treated about 164 patients soon after their arrival.
Cuba’s Medical Brigade in Haiti, which currently numbers around 600 doctors, nurses and medical technicians across 10 departments, has been active in the country for the past 20 years.
Cuban health professionals have a long record of quick and effective response when Haiti suffers natural disasters. When the 2010 earthquake hit, there were 344 Cuban medical workers in Haiti. They began offering emergency healthcare and set up two field hospitals immediately after the quake. A day later they had already seen 1,987 patients and performed 111 surgeries.
This latest earthquake and aftershocks were also felt in the eastern Cuban provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago and Holguín. Among the communities that felt the jolts were Baracoa, Caimanera, Cueto, Moa, Sagua de Tánamo, Maisí, Mayarí, Tacajó, Songo-La Maya, Segundo Frente and Santiago de Cuba. No damages were reported.