Haitians scramble to help earthquake victims as country braces for tropical depression Grace

Rescuers and scrap metal scavengers dug into the floors of a collapsed hotel Monday in the quake-ravaged coastal town of Les Cayes, Haiti, where 15 bodies had already been extracted.

Strong winds, heavy rain, rough seas, mudslides and flash flooding were expected

Rescuers and scrap metal scavengers dug into the floors of a collapsed hotel Monday in the quake-ravaged coastal town of Les Cayes, Haiti, where 15 bodies had already been extracted.

Jean Moise Fortune, whose brother, the hotel owner, was killed in the quake, believed there were two or three people trapped in the rubble. But based on the size of voids that workers cautiously peered into, perhaps 0.3 metres in depth, finding survivors appeared unlikely.

The quake, centred about 125 kilometres west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, killed at least 1,419 people as it nearly razed some towns and triggered landslides that hampered rescue efforts in a country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti already was struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty and political uncertainty following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

And the devastation could soon worsen with the coming of tropical depression Grace, which was predicted to reach Haiti on Monday night. The country's Civil Protection Agency said strong winds, heavy rain, rough seas, mudslides and flash flooding were expected. Rainfall amounts could reach 38 centimetres in some areas.

WATCH | Earthquake-stricken Haiti braces for tropical storm:

Tropical storm complicates rescue efforts in Haiti

2 years ago
Duration 4:32
An incoming tropical storm has complicated rescue and aid efforts in Haiti after Saturday’s earthquake, which has left more than 1,400 people dead.

While residents of Les Cayes carted away twisted heaps of scrap metal to earn some money, families who lost their homes camped out in soccer fields, using sheets and sticks to erect a bit of shade, and gathering to receive food distributed from a truck.

Injured earthquake victims continued to stream into Les Cayes's overwhelmed general hospital, three days after the earthquake struck Saturday. Patients waited to be treated on stair steps, in corridors and the hospital's open veranda.

"After two days, they are almost always generally infected," said Dr. Paurus Michelete, who had treated 250 patients and was one of only three doctors on call when the quake hit. "That makes it hard on us."

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake left at least 6,000 people injured, with thousands more displaced from destroyed or damaged homes. Les Cayes was darkened by intermittent blackouts, and many people slept outside, clutching small transistor radios tuned to news, terrified of the continuing aftershocks.

Efforts to treat the injured were difficult at the hospital, where Michelete said they were running out of pain killers, analgesics and steel pins to mend fractures. 

A young man injured in the Haiti earthquake is supported by his relatives at the Communautaire de Référence hospital in Port-Salut, Haiti, on Monday. The death toll from Saturday's 7.2-magnitude quake is at nearly 1,300, with at least 5,700 others injured. (Reginald Louissaint Jr/AFP/Getty Images)

"We are saturated, and people keep coming in."

Josil Eliophane, 84, crouched on the steps of the hospital, clutching an X-ray showing his shattered arm bone and pleading for pain medication.

Michelete said he would give one of his few remaining shots to Eliophane, who was injured when he ran out of his house as the quake hit, only to have a wall fall on him.

Nearby, on the hospital's open-air veranda, patients were on beds and mattresses, hooked up to IV bags of saline fluid. Others lay on the garden just beyond, under bed sheets erected to shield them from the brutal sun.

None of the patients or relatives caring for them wore face masks amid a coronavirus surge, and all could be drenched by the impending rain.

Officials said more than 7,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged from the quake, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were destroyed or badly damaged.

Humanitarian efforts face complications

Underlining the dire conditions, local officials had to negotiate with gangs in the seaside district of Martissant to allow two humanitarian convoys a day to pass through the area, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

The agency called Haiti's southern peninsula a "hot spot for gang-related violence," where humanitarian workers have been repeatedly attacked.

The agency said the area has been "virtually unreachable" over the past two months because of road blocks and security concerns.

Patients are attended to at a hospital following the earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Monday. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

Agency spokesperson Anna Jefferys said the first convoy passed through Sunday with government and UN personnel. She said the UN's World Food Program plans to send in food supplies via trucks Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry has declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country and said first government aid convoys had started moving help to areas where towns were destroyed and hospitals were overwhelmed.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said humanitarian needs were acute, with many Haitians urgently needing health care, clean water and shelter. Children separated from their parents also needed protection, she said.

Referring to the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti's capital, killing tens of thousands, Fore said: "Little more than a decade on, Haiti is reeling once again. And this disaster coincides with political instability, rising gang violence, alarmingly high rates of malnutrition among children, and the COVID-19 pandemic — for which Haiti has received just 500,000 vaccine doses, despite requiring far more."

The country of 11 million people received its first batch of U.S.-donated coronavirus vaccines only last month via a UN program for low-income countries.

Medical workers from across the region were scrambling to help as hospitals in Les Cayes started running out of space to perform surgeries.

A bulldozer removes debris at the site of the collapsed Hotel Le Manguier in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Monday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

"Basically, they need everything," said Dr. Inobert Pierre, a pediatrician with the non-profit Health Equity International, which oversees St. Boniface Hospital, about two hours from Les Cayes.

"Many of the patients have open wounds and they have been exposed to not-so-clean elements," added Pierre, who visited two hospitals in Les Cayes — one with some 200 patients, the other with around 90. "We anticipate a lot of infections."

Pierre's medical team was taking some patients to St. Boniface to undergo surgery, but with just two ambulances, they could transport only four at a time.

A man cleans the debris at his house following the earthquake in Corvalion, Les Cayes, Haiti, on Monday. (Richard Pierrin/Getty Images)

Small planes from a private firm and the Florida-based missionary service Agape Flights landed at the Port-Au-Prince airport Sunday carrying about a half-dozen injured from the Les Cayes area.

Young men with bandages and a woman were hoisted on stretchers to waiting Haitian Red Cross ambulances.

Working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Coast Guard said a helicopter was transporting medical personnel from the Haitian capital to the quake zone and evacuating injured back to Port-au-Prince. Lt.-Cmdr. Jason Nieman, a spokesperson, said other aircraft and ships were being sent.