Haitians left hungry and homeless by a devastating earthquake swarmed relief trucks and in some cases stole desperately needed goods on Friday (local time) as leaders of the poor Caribbean nation struggled to coordinate help and avoid a repeat of their chaotic response to a similar situation. tragedy 11 years ago.
Attacks on relief consignments illustrate growing frustration among homeless people after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake of August 14, which killed nearly 2,200 people, injured more than 12,000 and destroyed or damaged more than 100,000 homes .
“I’ve been here since yesterday, unable to do anything,” said Zephaniah Numa, 23, who waited outside an international aid distribution site in the small southwestern town of Camp-Perrin. hard hit in Les Cayes. Region.
“I have other people waiting for me to come back with something.”
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Numa said her house was destroyed in the quake and her sister broke her leg during the quake.
“Food would help me a lot with the kids and my sister,” she said.
George Prosper was also among the large anxious crowd waiting for help.
“I am a victim. I was pulled out from under the rubble, ”said Prosper, 80. “I’m not feeling well on my feet right now. I can barely stand up.
In the small port town of Les Cayes, an AP photographer saw people stealing foam mattresses from a truck parked at a Red Cross compound, while others stole food to be distributed , said Jean-Michel Saba, an official in the country’s civilian police. protection agency.
Police managed to safely escort the food truck, Saba said. He didn’t say how much was taken.
Similar thefts appear to have taken place in the small town of Vye Terre near Les Cayes, where a second PA photographer saw a group of men pulling large bags from a half-open container truck.
People then grabbed the bags and rushed over. A man who took away a food parcel was immediately surrounded by others who tried to snatch it from him as people nearby shouted.
The frustration with the pace of aid has been growing for days and is illustrated by the growing number of people congregating at aid distribution sites. But Friday was the first time there had been such widespread theft.
To complicate matters, authorities began restricting access to the bridge connecting Les Cayes to the quake-hit small port town of Jérémie, meaning that aid distribution had to be channeled there by boat or by ferry. airplane.
The earthquake wiped out many sources of food and income on which the poor depend for their survival in Haiti, which is already grappling with the coronavirus, gang violence and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Most of the damage took place in Haiti’s already impoverished southwest region.
Pressure for coordinated aid efforts intensified this week as more bodies were removed from the rubble and the injured continued to arrive from remote areas in search of medical attention.
International aid workers on the ground said hospitals in areas worst hit by the earthquake were mostly out of action and there was a dire need for medical supplies.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Friday called on international governments and aid groups to channel all their donations through the country’s emergency preparedness agency, “which will specify the needs of every town, every village and each remote area not yet visited “.
Henry said earlier this week that his administration would endeavor not to “repeat the story of mismanagement and aid coordination,” a reference to the chaos that followed the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010 when the government was accused of not getting all the money. collected by donors to people in need.
In a post on his Twitter account, Henry said he would “personally” ensure that aid reaches the victims this time around.
The Core Group, a coalition of key international diplomats from the United States and other countries who monitor Haiti, said in a statement Wednesday that its members were “resolutely committed to working alongside national and local authorities to ensure that people and affected areas receive assistance as soon as possible ”.
Associated Press editors Fernando Llano in Vye Terre, Haiti; Alan Clendenning in Newbury, Vermont; and Lisa J. Adams Wagner in Evans, GA, contributed to this report