Haiti mass graves still swelling

Last Updated 21 January 2010, 16:06 IST

Medical clinics have 12-day patient backlogs, untreated injuries are festering and makeshift camps housing thousands of survivors could foster disease, experts said.
“The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation,” said Dr Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

Hoping to assess the scope of the crisis, World Food Program chief Josette Sheeran planned to visit Haiti on Thursday, as did European Union aid chief Karel De Gucht.
The death toll is estimated at 200,000, according to Haitian government figures relayed by the European Commission, with 80,000 buried in mass graves. The commission now estimates 2 million homeless, up from 1.5 million, and says 250,000 are in need of urgent aid.

In the sparsely populated wasteland of Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, burial workers said on Wednesday that the macabre task of handling the never-ending flow of bodies was traumatising.

“I have seen so many children, so many children. I cannot sleep at night and, if I do, it is a constant nightmare,” said Foultone Fequiert, 38, his face covered with a T-shirt against the overwhelming stench.

The dead stick out at all angles from the mass graves — tall mounds of chalky dirt, the limbs of men, women and children frozen together in death. “I received 10,000 bodies yesterday alone,” said Fequiert.

Workers say they have no time to give the dead proper religious burials or follow pleas from the international community that bodies be buried in shallow graves from which loved ones might eventually retrieve them.

“We just dump them in, and fill it up,” said Luckner Clerzier, 39, who was helping guide trucks to another grave site farther up the road.

There are now 15 burial mounds at Clerzier’s site, each covering a wide trench cut into the ground some 25 feet deep, and rising 15 feet into the air. At the larger mass grave, where Fequiert toiled, three earth-moving machines cut long trenches into the earth, readying them for more cadavers.

Search for survivors
More than eight days after the quake, rescuers searched late into the night for survivors with dogs and sonar equipment.

They tested the spot and screamed into the rubble: “If you hear me, bang three times.”
They heard no response, but vowed to continue.

“It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and each day the needles are disappearing,” team member Steven Chin said.

One rescue was reported. The International Medical Corps said it was caring for a child found in ruins on Wednesday. Elder, of Doctors Without Borders, said that patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds.

(Published 21 January 2010, 16:06 IST)

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