Haiti

Haiti's mass graves swell; Womack sends supplies

Posted January 21, 2010 6:10 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2010 6:00 p.m. EST

— Workers are carving out mass graves on a hillside north of Haiti's capital, using earth-movers to bury 10,000 earthquake victims in a single day while relief workers warn the death toll could increase.

Medical clinics have 12-day patient backlogs, untreated injuries are festering and makeshift camps housing thousands of survivors could foster disease, experts said.

"The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation," said Dr. Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

Womack helps provide medical supplies

Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg is helping provide medical supplies for deploying units to take to Haiti.

Medical Center has received several shipments of trucks with supplies. Workers are sending masks, gloves, pharmaceuticals and hand sanitizers to the country.

“It’s very important to keep our people healthy so they can continue to provide humanitarian assistant that is so desperately needed in Haiti right now,” said Lt. Col. Tony Lopiccolo, director of logistics at Womack.

Many employees worked 24 hour shifts to help support the relief efforts of the unit, officials said.

Death toll estimated at 200,000 

The death toll is estimated at 200,000, according to Haitian government figures relayed by the European Commission, with 80,000 buried in mass graves. The commission now estimates 2 million homeless.

Getting help in is still a challenge. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command running Haiti's airports said Thursday that 1,400 flights are on a waiting list for slots at the Port-au-Prince airport that can handle 120 to 140 flights a day.

In the sparsely populated wasteland of Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, burial workers on Wednesday said the macabre task of handling the never-ending flow of bodies was traumatizing.

"I have seen so many children, so many children. I cannot sleep at night and, if I do, it is a constant nightmare," said Foultone Fequiert, 38, his face covered with a T-shirt against the overwhelming stench.

The dead stick out at all angles from the mass graves - tall mounds of chalky dirt, the limbs of men, women and children frozen together in death. "I received 10,000 bodies yesterday alone," said Fequiert.

Workers say they have no time to give the dead proper religious burials or follow pleas from the international community that bodies be buried in shallow graves from which loved ones might eventually retrieve them.

"We just dump them in, and fill it up," said Luckner Clerzier, 39, who was helping guide trucks to another grave site farther up the road.

An Associated Press reporter counted 15 burial mounds at Clerzier's site, each covering a wide trench cut into the ground some 25 feet deep, and rising 15 feet into the air. At the larger mass grave, where Fequiert toiled, three earth-moving machines cut long trenches into the earth, readying them for more cadavers.

Others struggle to stem the flow of the dead.

Dogs, equipment help find dead

More than eight days after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, rescuers searched late into the night for survivors with dogs and sonar equipment. A Los Angeles County rescue team sent three dogs separately into the rubble on a street corner in Petionville, a suburb overlooking Port-au-Prince. Each dog picked up the scent of life at one spot.

They tested the spot and screamed into the rubble in Creole they've learned: "If you hear me, bang three times."

They heard no response, but vowed to continue.

"It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and each day the needles are disappearing," team member Steven Chin said.

One rescue was reported. The International Medical Corps said it was caring for a child found in ruins Wednesday. The boy's uncle told doctors and a nurse with the Los Angeles-based organization that relatives pulled the 5-year-old from the wreckage of his home after searching for a week, said Margaret Aguirre, an IMC spokeswoman in Haiti.

A Dutch adoption agency said Thursday that a mercy flight carrying 106 adopted children was on its way to the Netherlands from Port-au-Prince. The children on board the plane were all in the process of being adopted and already had been matched to new Dutch parents before the quake.

At the Mission Baptiste hospital south of Port-au-Prince, patients waited on benches or rolling beds while doctors and nurses raced among them, X-rays in hand.

The hospital had just received badly need supplies from soldiers of the U.S Army's 82nd Airborne Division, but hospital director John Angus said there wasn't enough. He pleaded for more doctors, casts and metal plates to fix broken limbs.

Meanwhile, a flotilla of rescue vessels led by the U.S. hospital ship Comfort steamed into Port-au-Prince harbor Wednesday to help fill gaps in the struggling global effort to deliver water, food and medical help.

Elder, of Doctors Without Borders, said that patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds and that some of the group's posts had 10- to 12-day backups of patients.

Aftershocks again shake Haiti

Two aftershocks has again rattled Haiti's capital, sending rescue teams scrambling off precarious piles of rubble and already traumatized residents fleeing into the streets yet again.

There are no immediate reports of damage from either temblor. The U.S. Geological Survey has given a preliminary magnitude estimate of 4.9 for one that hit at 11:45 a.m. Thursday.

Haiti has been hit by at least 50 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater since the Jan. 12 quake that devastated the capital.

None has caused significant damage, but they have hampered relief efforts and added to a sense of doom among the shellshocked populace.