• The San Juan Daily Star

Many earthquake survivors expect no help from Haitian officials

By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Andre Paultre

The destruction was everywhere, the help nowhere.

Days after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake devastated the western part of Haiti’s southern peninsula, the hillside village of Toirac had yet to be visited by any emergency authorities or aid groups.

At least 20 Toirac villagers who had been attending a funeral inside a church when the quake struck Saturday were killed as the church collapsed, survivors said Tuesday.

With some help from Boy Scouts, the Toirac villagers dug out dead loved ones, buried them in mass graves and built makeshift shelters as Tropical Storm Grace pelted the area with heavy rain that caused floods and mudslides. They used salvaged pieces of their collapsed houses.

“I don’t expect any help; we’re on our own,” said Michel Milord, a 66-year-old farmer in Toirac, who lost his wife and his house in the earthquake. “No one trusts this government here.”

At least 1,900 people were killed and nearly 10,000 injured in the quake, which caused tremendous damage in an area that is home to about 1.5 million people. It is about 80 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which remains scarred by a quake along the same fault line that struck more than 11 years ago, killing roughly 250,000 people.

The United Nations, United States and an array of international aid groups mobilized to send help, but the aid effort has remained patchy and limited, mostly confined to urgent medical assistance to the main population centers close to airstrips.

The only road linking Port-au-Prince to the affected area remains plagued by gang violence, derailing some aid deliveries. Airlifts have been affected by Tropical Storm Grace, which passed over Haiti on Monday. And the Haitian government, which has promised to centralize and coordinate the relief efforts, has been largely absent from the affected communities.

Haiti was plunged into disarray by the killing of President Jovenel Moïse last month. The country is now facing the earthquake without a president, a functioning Parliament or a head of the Supreme Court. The caretaker government that took power after Moïse’s death lacks political experience, money and legitimacy in the eyes of most Haitians.

The new prime minister, Ariel Henry, toured the affected area the day after the earthquake, but he had little to offer the desperate residents apart from words of reassurance. Underlining Haiti’s limited resources, Henry had to travel on an airplane lent by the air force of neighboring Dominican Republic.

The small airport of Les Cayes, the main source of supplies for the earthquake zone, bustled Tuesday with aid groups and foreign emergency workers. There was no sign of any government officials or airplanes.

Asked where to find state officials in the area, a prominent local political party boss and former senator, Hervé Fourcand — who had used his own seven-seat prop plane to fly grievously injured quake victims to Port-au-Prince on Sunday — briskly walked away from a New York Times reporter in silence.

The government said this week that it would centralize all aid delivery in Port-au-Prince through a new organization, The National Center for Emergency Operations, to avoid the mistakes made in the 2010 quake.

By Wednesday, however, it was unclear if the new agency was receiving or coordinating any supplies. The prime minister’s office directed questions about the relief effort to the interior minister, who was not reachable for comment.

Some aid groups and donor governments say they have just started delivering the aid themselves after having advised authorities of their plans.

For many residents of southern Haiti, the disaster was just the latest hardship they have endured on their own in a country afflicted by endemic poverty and corruption.

On Monday, many simply tried carrying on, amid the rubble.

In Toirac, Paulette Toussaint did her children’s laundry and hung it across the rubble of her destroyed home. Ruth Milord, a 23-year-old daughter of Michel Milord, the farmer, sat down to play a local board game called Rome with her friends and relatives outside her collapsed home. They balanced the board on their knees because they had no table left. The university, where she studied agronomy, also collapsed, upending her plans for the future.

“My parents didn’t have the money to send us to school,” Michel Milord said. “I didn’t want the same to happen to my children.”

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