Agony sets in as medics focus on survivors

But no one at the Doctors Without Borders compound paid much heed to Dervil, 38, a money-changer and father of four children. Instead, doctors were frantically tending to those still living who had streamed in. A watchman tried to keep a mob from pushing its way inside.

It was hard to tell which was worse, the suffering of the dozens of victims behind the tall gate, or the scene on the sidewalk outside.

One woman writhed on the pavement of the compound’s gate, her foot impaled by a piece of wood. A grandmother silently endured the pain of her right leg, twisted like a pretzel. Anesthesia remained a distant dream. Then there were the bodies — dozens, if not hundreds of them — starting to decompose under white sheets.
Some of the bodies strewn on the sidewalk had names scribbled on pieces of cardboard. “Regina” had died somewhere before arriving at the entrance of the private St Esprit Hospital a few blocks from the Doctors Without Borders compound. No one there could explain who Regina was.

Within the compound, a French volunteer offered a harried summary: “We are overwhelmed. We don’t have capacity for more victims. We don’t have time to talk.”
Dervil fixed his tired gaze on the soil below. “I just want my wife’s corpse,” he repeated. “I know they are busy tending to the survivors, but there is a room full of bodies that I cannot get to.”

The wounded stared around that room of the dead, hoping their time had not yet come. Their relatives waited on the asphalt outside the compound, praying for their loved ones. The scene was repeated again and again in front of barely functioning hospitals and clinics throughout this barely functioning city.

Soon dusk began to fall, enveloping the city, still without electricity, in darkness. An aftershock sent people running out of homes into the street. Many decided it would be safer to remain in the street. They chatted with neighbours and wondered what would come next in Port-au-Prince. Some lighted candles under the night sky.

With no electricity, stars offered the only illumination in the city, which, with its suburbs, is home to nearly 3 million people. For some of those lying on the asphalt or in the parks, cellphones provided a brief glimpse of light.

Then the singing began. Those gathered outside tents, on lawn chairs, sitting in the middle of empty streets, sang their hymns. One phrase in Creole could be heard repeatedly both inside and outside the hospital walls, as if those voicing the words were trying to make sense of the madness around them.

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