Utahns work to keep Haiti on America's mind

Published: Thursday, April 22 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Daniel Cameau of Provo sits at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 29, with an orphan awaiting clearance to evacuate.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Editor's note: First in a four-part series looking back at post-quake efforts in Haiti as Utahns and the LDS Church rushed to help provide humanitarian aid.

This is Haiti 100 days after the earthquake: The bodies that could be reached have been buried, but rubble is everywhere. The water trucks and rice distributions now routinely reach many, staving off starvation, if not all hunger.

But the interest of donors, notorious for short attention spans, is waning. At least one hospital that ran out of resources gently placed patients out on the street before closing its doors recently — including a child in a body cast.

"I don't blame the hospital. Everyone was working hard trying their level best, but they couldn't go on and had to shut down," said Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti, who saw it. "Move them out, shut the gates, say good luck. It was horrible."

You can tell part of Haiti's story with numbers. Haiti has — or had — 9 million people, the vast majority impoverished. The average annual income was $1,300. The life expectancy before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 was 61 years. As many as 300,000 died, and about 3 million need aid in its aftermath, including 84,000 elderly. The injured are near impossible to count accurately, but estimates start at a quarter million. The United Nations said 245,000 "ruined or hopelessly damaged" buildings have created 30 million to 78 million cubic yards of rubble.

It's not easy to return to normal in such a landscape, and attempts don't gain much traction, says Daniel Cameau of Provo, who left his Haiti homeland 20 years ago. His cousin's daughter died and her mom was seriously injured. Nine cousins are now homeless.

The other day, he asked one, "How is life?"

"It's not much changed since the earthquake," he was told. "There is still rubble. The government is still not organized." They are trying to function "in a dysfunctional situation and that makes life more miserable."

A distant loss

Utahns frantic to reach friends and family in Haiti right after the earthquake have now counted the dead from a distance. Hernandez and Alba Honore each lost beloved cousins. Alba's uncle died and her aunt's arm and leg were amputated. Their friend Farnell Pierre-Louis' mother and siblings are doing comparatively well. His brother-in-law returned to work quickly and they gathered enough money to send some of the family to Miami for a few weeks. Now the tent school is opening for the children and Pierre-Louis, of Salt Lake, is in Haiti helping them return. Most will live in a parking lot a while longer.

And yet another wave of sorrow is right on the horizon. Haiti's rainy season, just starting to sputter, will go on for weeks, pouring buckets of water on the broken-hearted and battered island. Then the hurricane season will begin.

Millions live in makeshift tent cities and the government is just beginning to move some to higher ground. "There's no permanent housing. The lucky ones are in a tent, otherwise they have a sheet draped over a string. And when the rains come in May and June …" Randle's voice trails off, then he says the rain will wash through areas that have been used as makeshift latrines, carrying sewage throughout the camps. It will stink as it brings cholera and infectious diseases, as it severely compromises conditions for people healing from injuries and surgeries or just trying to survive, homeless. When the rains reach bodies still under rubble in some locations, it will likely spread even more disease.

In his blog, Randle writes, Haiti "is not just broken but is crushed." He took a team of volunteers to Port-au-Prince in March. "Half had been to Haiti before and were shocked at the devastation, half were new to Haiti and were shocked at Haiti."

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