PORT-AU-PRINCE // Monique Rosne was bathing her twin daughters when the quake tore through Haiti's capital, sending her home and thousands more tumbling to the ground. Chiraque Patrick was watching television in his bedroom. Fortune Rosenie was tapping away in a cyber cafe when the walls came crashing down.
They are among the lucky survivors of the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Port-au-Prince on Tuesday afternoon, a densely packed city of some three million that is now, three days later, struggling to get food, nurse wounds and come to terms with the scale of the tragedy. As rescue teams scoured the rubble for fading signs of life, Haitians grew increasingly frustrated yesterday as tens of thousands of bodies rotted in the tropical heat and an aid bottleneck prevented urgently-needed supplies from reaching those in the most dire need.
"When I felt the floor shaking, I took my twin daughters out of the bath and got outside quickly," said Ms Rosne, clasping one of her four surviving children, bandages swaddling the four-year-old's head. "I'm worried about my child; she has injuries and needs a doctor." Ms Rosne's two-storey home in Petionville was levelled by the quake, killing her 20-year-old son, Gaspar, a student, and sending masonry tumbling down on the shoulders of her husband as he tried to rescue another of their children.
"I'm worried about my husband," added the 38-year-old housewife. "He was badly injured on his back and taken to a hospital - but I don't know which one. Nobody has heard from him or can tell me whether or not he is OK." With telephone lines down, many survivors are unable to contact their loved ones and walk the streets in a desperate search for information, many using sticks to ease the pressure on broken limbs or hobbling about on twisted ankles.
Dead bodies bound in string and cloths litter the pavements with fingers, shoes and hair poking from beneath their makeshift covering. Flies buzz around the swaddled corpses feeding through the bloodstained fabric. Straining to talk as a result of internal injuries that have yet to be diagnosed, Mr Patrick, a 25-year-old college student, was buried under rubble after the ceiling collapsed on his home in the capital's suburb of Petionville.
It was only after a friend dragged him from beneath the mess of broken concrete that he realised his father and three of his four sisters had perished in the rubble of what was once a happy family home. Now, he ranks among the estimated 300,000 Haitians left homeless by the devastating quake, where UN assessment teams estimate that the worst-hit districts of the capital suffered "50 per cent destruction".
"I'm in so much pain. I've seen a doctor and they gave me painkillers, but I need to go to hospital so they can find out what is wrong with me," he gasped, struggling to fill his lungs with air while lying under blankets by the roadside. "I've been crying. My father was everything to me. He was the one I used to joke with, to laugh with, to work with. Now he is gone and that hurts me so much." Aftershocks continue to shake the earth's crust in this disaster-ravaged nation. When each tremor strikes, survivors spring to their feet and dart out of buildings for fear of falling victim to a repeat disaster.
Whining in agony and gesturing towards her swollen, bloody ankle, Ms Rosenie describes fleeing from an internet cafe in the Turgeau district when the quake stuck at 4.53pm, sending people running for their lives. "I just ran out of the shop. I was running and didn't even see what hit me. I think it was a wall - it fell down and crushed my foot," said the 22-year-old. "I was in the hospital and the doctors were going to operate, but they took me outside when the aftershocks started and they thought the building was going to collapse."
The accountancy student now lies by the roadside, writhing in pain among a half-dozen other injured patients, all with cloths wrapped around their faces to prevent infection spreading from the corpses piling up nearby. Flies draw blood from the filthy bandages wrapping her foot. "They have given me some painkillers, but it still hurts," she sobbed. "I need more help because otherwise my foot will not heal properly."
Although helicopters buzzed overhead and rescue teams attended to the crumbled edifices most likely to contain trapped survivors, they were hampered by a lack of the heavy lifting equipment needed to remove twisted steel and concrete. Despite a massive global aid operation, many supplies are not reaching the people most in need. Deliveries are piling up at the capital's single-runway international airport, with flights circling above the city and jostling for space on the tarmac.
"We hear planes overhead, but I don't see any relief effort," said Bob Poff, the director of disaster services for the Salvation Army in Haiti. "We are out of water, we don't have enough medical staff, and we can't get things in." UN teams urged donor governments to stop sending search and rescue teams into the aid logjam but called for doctors and medical personnel to treat thousands of casualties suffering from crush injuries and fractures.
The situation is "hopeless" for many Haitians, and aid efforts are not yet providing significant help, said David Wimhurst, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. "They are slowly getting more angry and impatient. The situation is getting more tense. Tempers might become frayed. The national police have disappeared. Law and order is up to the UN." It is now three days since the temblor struck the capital, destroying homes, hospitals, schools and landmarks such as the presidential palace and national cathedral. The Red Cross estimates that as many as 50,000 people died.
Among the key priorities are setting up water stations and temporary treatment centres and delivering the tonnes of antibiotics and supplies needed to avert outbreaks of diarrhoea, measles and malaria, experts warn. Although the worst earthquake to hit Haiti in more than 150 years, this tragedy only adds to the woes of a Caribbean nation that has endured decades of political instability, gang violence and a succession of four devastating storms in 2008.
Many Haitians blame government corruption and inefficiency for their myriad problems, saying poor leadership has stalled economic growth and resulted in many buildings being haphazardly constructed and prone to earthquake damage. "Haiti has missed many opportunities to become a better country," said Edson Medaius, a 27-year-old telecoms worker. "I am very mad about what has happened. Officials here say they are helping the people, but they are only interested in putting money in their pockets.
"We are worried that the aid is not reaching those who need it most. Although supplies were coming in after the hurricanes two years ago, the politicians were making money by selling supplies rather than giving them to the people." With only limited medical aid and a shortage of doctors and nurses to attend the streets filled with victims, Ms Rosne, and the other citizens of this devastated city, warns that the overseas assistance may arrive too late.
"The doctors saw to my daughter but they refused to give her anything - they said they do not have enough supplies," she said, holding on to the four-year-old. "I'm worried. Her wounds are dirty and getting infected. We need more help." email@example.com