Aid trickles in as Haiti struggles to count those killed in quake

Hundreds of people in rural areas queue to receive provisions from UN World Food Programme

Camp Perrin residents receive food from the World Food Programme near Les Cayes on Thursday. Reuters
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Foreign food aid slowly trickled into more rural areas of southwestern Haiti on Thursday, arriving days after a major earthquake that killed at least 2,189 people and reduced tens of thousands of buildings to rubble.

Hundreds of people queued to receive provisions from the UN World Food Programme at a camp in the rural town of Camp-Perrin for people displaced by Saturday's 7.2 magnitude quake.

A mudslide caused by two nights of heavy rain this week had partly blocked the main road leading to the area. Any more rain could make it impassable, locals said. People were sleeping out in a field under trees.

"No one is coming to help us," said Montette Joseph, 33, who has four children and travelled for two hours in a pickup truck to reach the distribution site.

The price of small bags of drinking water has tripled since the quake, she said.

"I am looking for assistance so I can rebuild my home and take care of my children. We are living a tragedy."

Many Haitians have complained about the sluggish arrival of aid, while fresh tremors are adding to anxiety.

In the coastal city of Les Cayes, one of the areas to suffer most damage, residents were jolted from their beds by an aftershock overnight.

There were no immediate reports of damage, a police officer said. Families slept on mattresses on the streets across the city, nervous about the state of buildings.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and is still recovering from a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

The latest disaster struck only weeks after the president Jovenel Moise was assassinated on July 7, plunging the nation of 11 million people deeper into a political crisis that has worsened its economic woes.

The national civil protection agency said late on Wednesday the death toll from the quake was 2,189, with 12,200 people injured.

Officials are still counting the dead.

In the town of Cavaillon, near Les Cayes, officials huddled over paper where they recorded the number of damaged houses, schools and churches in each of the surrounding villages, along with the number of dead and missing.

"We think there are still bodies in the ruins because we can smell them from underneath the rubble," said Jean Mary Naissant, a Cavaillon official.

According to the tallies for Cavaillon and the small villages around it, 53 were killed and more than 2,700 wounded in the area. But there were still 21 people unaccounted for six days after the quake, local officials said.

Residents staged a protest on Monday to demand more assistance to dig out the collapsed buildings, Ms Naissant said, but government help had yet to arrive from the capital, Port-au-Prince, 180 kilometres to the east.

A village market and hotel nearby were bustling with people when the quake struck on Saturday morning, reducing the area to a heap of shattered cement and twisted iron rods.

Residents had managed to recover two bodies from the site, said Jimmy Amazan, another local official, but believed more remain buried under the rubble.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said late on Wednesday the whole country was physically and mentally devastated.

"Our hearts are tearing apart; some of our compatriots are still under the rubble," he said, appealing for the troubled nation to unite at a time of crisis. "The days ahead will be difficult and often painful."

In Boileau, a farming village about 20 minutes' drive from Cavaillon, residents said officials had not yet arrived to document the victims or destroyed buildings, leaving them to wonder whether the damage there was part of the official record.

Renette Petithomme, a police officer, stood in the grass outside her partially collapsed home with her toddler daughter.

She was worried about her father. He had left earlier in the day for Port-au-Prince to seek medical care for a head wound he suffered when the home's walls fell in, but the public bus had broken down en route.

"Since the earthquake, he's been losing his senses, having trouble speaking and walking," she said. The family decided to send him to the capital for treatment, she said, after learning that all the nearby hospitals were full.

Updated: August 19, 2021, 7:19 PM