Haiti quake survivors prepare to spend third night in open (Lead)

January 15th, 2010 - 6:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Port-au-Prince, Jan 15 (DPA) As Haitians covered thousands of decomposing bodies in sheets, hundreds of survivors cocooned themselves in shroud-like cloths as they prepared to spend another cold night in the open.
Port-au-Prince is a ghost town at night, the devastation of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake deceptively masked in silhouettes and shadows of shattered buildings, piles of rubble, precariously hanging balconies and mangled cars.

In Delmas, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, scores of homeless people huddled in the dark on the grounds of the St Louis Catholic School. A few kilometres away, under the bright lights and two huge satellite dishes of the TNH national television office, Haitians lay down in restless rows, so tightly drawn that there were no concessions for shifting or nightmares.

Any street free of debris or bodies was occupied by those who have lost everything.

Haiti will wake up Friday with the critical 72-hour window to find survivors drawing to a close and without much of the international aid it so desperately needs. Transporting supplies and humanitarian workers has been hampered by poor roads and an airport unable to work to full capacity.

Shock and sorrow are slowly morphing into frustration and anger at the government’s inability to deal with both the living and the dead. “(President Rene) Preval still hasn’t declared a state of emergency,” said one disgusted aid worker.

“This is an unpredictable country - in minutes the mood can change. I anticipate a lot of violence. You can’t take anything for granted here,” said Eric Auguste, who was in the US with his sons during the earthquake.

As maimed and decaying bodies pile up on street corners and the stench of death overwhelms the city, Haitians have plans to take matters into their own hands.

Some witnesses claimed that they had already laid bodies down outside the presidential palace as a mark of protest. Friday, there are plans to take many of the bodies and line them up across the few roads.

At the Delmas police station, local rescue workers were using a single crane and blowtorches to cut through slabs of concrete.

“There are people alive inside, we can hear them,” one worker said.

There are no exact figures for how many people were trapped when the two-storey building came down, but conservative estimates put it at between 100-150 police officers and eight prisoners.

“We know there are people alive, because one policeman managed to call his parents from his cell phone to say he was alive and not to give up on him,” one rescue worker said. “He said he wasn’t alone and that there were others with him.”

The claim could not be verified by a top police officer who stepped out of the building minutes before the earthquake, but fact and fiction are blended by hope in Haiti.

Scores of rescue workers at the site of the collapsed blue-and-white police station complained of not having enough equipment.

“This crane only came Thursday afternoon. We need more,” one worker said. All that remained of the second floor of the police station were crushed grey file cabinets, piles of papers and a lone red chair.

“I have witnessed the two biggest events in my lifetime - when America elected a black president and now this earthquake,” said Edgar Previlon, a project manager with the International Development Bank.

His aid worker wife was in the US and spoke to him 20 minutes after the earthquake, but they subsequently lost all contact as she struggled to get home. She was reunited with her husband, two sons and daughter late Thursday, and he drove her around a city she only barely recognized.

Most of Port-au-Prince is without electricity, and the only light at night comes from the stars, an occasional flickering fluorescent bulb, the stove fires of makeshift community kitchens that have sprouted to feed the homeless, and candles around which people gather to mourn the dead, pray for the injured and sing for the survivors.

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