Fri, Jan 15, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Songs, prayers rise from Haiti’s ruins

LIVING WITH THE DEADPeople are struggling with their bare hands to search for survivors or pull out bodies from the rubble and lay them on the street

AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

Rescue workers unload medical and other relief supplies from a Venezuelan military cargo plane on Wednesday in Port-Au-Prince.

PHOTO: AFP

Mournful songs and prayers rose above the ruins in Haiti overnight as darkness drew a veil over the rows of corpses in the quake-hit capital.

Small groups gathered around the city just after midnight yesterday, singing and praying in their hour of despair.

Earlier, at twilight, exhausted rescuers had been digging without respite, clawing with bare hands in a desperate race against time to free those trapped under tons of twisted concrete after Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude quake.

There are fears the death toll could top 100,000.

A baby cried, its wails echoing across the rubble as a group of men worked silently to reach it. Suddenly the earth shook again with one of dozens of aftershocks, and the rescuers scattered in panic.

All except Jeanwell Antoine who held the baby’s arm and calmly sought to comfort it.

“It is not me who is pushing back this earth. It is the hand of God, who loves life and is guiding me so I can save this baby,” he said.

Such scenes were repeated across the devastated city of more than 2 million people as, more than 24 hours after the massive quake struck, foreign aid and heavy lifting equipment had only just begun to arrive.

In the ruins of homes, many lay dead, frozen in their last moments before the earth convulsed: a couple struck down as they slept; lifeless young girls covered in dust; women with clothing ripped to shreds and charred bodies in cars. Some corpses released from the ruins were laid out on the roads, many covered in sheets, in a tragic display that reduced passers-by to tears.

“Help me! My husband is still trapped in here. Please help me, I know he’s alive,” one woman sobbed.

In the dark of night, hundreds ran in panic out of a Port-au-Prince park toward higher ground after a rumor that a tsunami was racing toward the city. A preacher warned in Creole that the world was coming to an end.

In Saint Honore Street, a man was trapped by the wreckage of a car, standing up but unable to free his foot for the past 24 hours as his helpless friends and family looked on. He seemed to show signs of internal bleeding.

“He will die before we can get him out,” a sociology student named Wilson said softly.

Disoriented, dazed survivors wandered the streets, not knowing which way to turn, while others tried to help those still trapped.

There were no diggers, no ambulances, not a fire engine to be seen.

“We urgently need international assistance,” Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said, telling CNN he believed the death toll could reach 100,000.

Hospitals, many of them collapsed or damaged, struggled to cope with a flow of wounded as power, water and medical supplies dwindled.

As the morgues began to overflow, there were fears that disease could break out in the sticky tropical climate if corpses were left to fester.

“We need help. The hospital is full, we are lacking in everything,” said one woman on a radio station, stressing wounded were lying next to the dead.

“All the morgues are full, the hospitals are overflowing, there is not enough medicine,” Haitian President Rene Preval said.

Rody Baptista slumped in a chair at the ruins of his home, refusing to seek shelter until he could release the bodies of two of his children from the rubble.

“What has this country done to deserve such misfortune?” the 80-year-old said.

Yards away women were singing and clapping, the tuneful sounds piercing the evening hush.

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