A hospital in southwestern Haiti was packed with patients, many of whom had to lie on patios, corridors, balconies and hallways after a powerful earthquake over the weekend destroyed homes, stores and other buildings. Then came the impending storm, which was expected to bring heavy rain Monday night, and officials had to relocate as many of them as possible given the hospital’s poor conditions.
Even those patients were lucky. Haiti’s civil protection agency on Monday raised the death toll from Saturday’s quake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom had to wait for rescue in the hot sun even on the airport runway.
“We had planned to put up tents (in the hospital courtyard), but were told it was not safe,” said Gede Peterson, director of Les Cayes General Hospital.
This was not the first time staff had to improvise. The hospital morgue’s refrigeration equipment had been out of order for three months, but after Saturday’s earthquake, staff had to store up to 20 bodies in a small room. Relatives soon came to take most of them to private embalming or immediate burial services. By Monday, there were only three bodies in the morgue.
The quake, which struck about 125 kilometers (80 miles) west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, nearly destroyed some towns and caused landslides that hampered rescue efforts in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti was already reeling from a coronavirus pandemic, banditry, worsening poverty and political uncertainty following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, when the earthquake forced residents to flee to the streets.
The damage could soon worsen with the arrival of tropical depression Grace, which is expected to bring high winds, heavy rain, landslides and flash floods. The Citizen Protection Agency said light rain began falling in Les Cayes Monday night, but could reach 15 inches (38 centimeters) in some areas. Heavy rains have already begun in Port-au-Prince.
We are now trying to make sure we get the resources we have to the worst affected areas,” said Jerry Chandler, head of the agency, referring to the towns of Les Cayes and Jeremy in the southwest of the country and to Nippes province.
Three days after the quake, a steady stream of quake victims entered the overcrowded Lekker hospital. Patients waited for treatment on the steps of the staircase, in the corridors and on the hospital’s open terrace.
Dr. Paurus Michelete said, “After two days, they were almost all infected.” He treated 250 patients and was one of three doctors on call when the earthquake struck.
Meanwhile, rescuers and scrap metal scavengers drilled into the floor of a collapsed hotel in this coastal city Monday, where 15 bodies have been recovered. Jean-Mois Fortunet, whose brother, a hotelier and prominent politician, died in the quake, believes more people are trapped in the rubble.
But judging by the size of the cavity, about a foot (0.3 meters) deep, into which workers peered carefully, finding survivors seemed unlikely.
When work, fuel and money ran out, desperate residents of Lek scoured the rubble for scrap metal to sell. Others await remittances from abroad that were the backbone of Haiti’s economy even before the quake.
Anthony Emil joined dozens of others in a six-hour line trying to get the money his brother had telegraphed from Chile, where he had worked after the last earthquake in Haiti.
“We’ve been waiting since morning, but there are too many people,” said Emil, a banana farmer whose relatives in the village depend on him to give them money to survive.
Efforts to treat the wounded were hampered at the general hospital, where Michelet said many patients had run out of painkillers, analgesics and steel nails to treat broken bones.
“We’re saturated, and people keep coming in,” he said.
Jochir Eliopan, 84, crouched on the steps of the hospital, clutching an X-ray showing a broken arm and begging for painkillers.
Michelet said he would give one of the few remaining shots to Eliopan, who ran out of his house during the quake but a wall fell on him.
Nearby, on the hospital’s open terrace, patients lay on beds and mattresses attached to bags of saline administered intravenously. Others lay in the garden, under sheets erected to protect them from the brutal sun. None of the patients or the relatives caring for them wore masks amid the surge of coronavirus.