Haiti earthquake: Massive needs persist for quake survivors in Port-au-Prince

News and Press Release
Originally published
The humanitarian situation remains dire for most of Port-au-Prince's population, following Tuesday's devastating earthquake, which left much of the city in ruins. The destruction resulting from the quake is massive and widespread. People are still in a daze, struggling to come to terms with the death and devastation. ICRC staff say scores of people are in the streets with very limited access to shelter, sanitation, water, food and medical care.

General situation

Tens of thousands of people affected by Tuesday's tremor are now living on the streets and in makeshift camps, which cover nearly every inch of open public space in Port-au-Prince, according to ICRC spokesman, Simon Schorno. He was able to visit many areas of the city on Friday, including Christ-Roi, Nazon, Centre-Ville, Delmas and Canape-Vert.

"It's utter chaos," he said. "There is destruction in every neighbourhood. People are walking around, looking for food, for help. Many are wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the smell of decaying bodies. There are no tents, no plastic sheeting, no place to cook and no toilets." He also described scenes of tremendous solidarity between neighbours and strangers alike, who were sharing what little they had with each other and organizing themselves as best they could.

Meanwhile, medical facilities in Port-au-Prince lack staff and medicine. They are overwhelmed and unable to cope with the high number of patients.

The ICRC continues to work closely with its Red Cross partners on the ground to assess humanitarian needs and deliver relief assistance. A shipment of 40 tonnes of ICRC medical supplies is expected to arrive in Haiti on Sunday.

On Friday, ICRC specialists assessed the capacity of the city's main medical facilities, the water and sanitation infrastructure of Port-au-Prince's Cité Soleil neighbourhood, and the assistance needs of those living in makeshift camps. ICRC teams also provided more non-food assistance to several local hospitals and places of detention.

Makeshift camps

Around 50,000 people are estimated to be staying in the city's famed Place du Champ de Mars. In total, there are around 40 gathering points throughout the city, where frightened residents are camping out. Meanwhile, buses are leaving the city packed with families trying to reach relatives in the countryside.

Near the St. Louis de Gonzague high school, about 5,000 people are now living and sleeping in the open. One man there could be seen breaking and burning a bed for firewood, while Sandra, a mother from the Delmans neighbourhood, said she moved to the schoolyard late on Tuesday, hours after the quake struck. She's looking after a total of 18 people, including six children. "I'm scared that they are getting sick," she says. "They have not eaten today."

Like countless others, Sandra wants to go back to her neighbourhood to search for bodies. "Everyone is fending for themselves," says Primrose, whose family is sitting nearby. "We are afraid of epidemics."

The ICRC has published a set of questions and answers about the risks associated with dead bodies and the spread of disease. Contrary to popular belief, experts say the bodies of people who have died in disasters, like an earthquake, do not spread disease.

Clinics and hospitals

Most public and private hospitals left standing continue to be stretched to the limit, with not enough doctors or nurses to handle the hundreds of wounded waiting at their gates.

At one clinic visited by the ICRC in Cité Militaire, the situation is critical. Melissa, a 51-year-old nurse, is the single medical staff there. The building is empty, while patients are in the courtyard, with their relatives. There are no doctors. Melissa told the ICRC that they never came back after the earthquake and are most likely tending to their own families - and there is no medicine. The same is true at other medical facilities in the city.

An eight-year-old girl with a broken leg and foam in her mouth has been suffering in pain and waiting for help since Tuesday. Melissa says she needs antibiotics, gauze and first aid kits. "I have nothing and my patients need to be operated on. They need orthopaedic care," she says. There are two dead bodies in the courtyard and lots of flies over their covered heads. An old woman whose arm had to be amputated is waiting, too, with a hole in the top of her head. "She has had no pain killers and is delirious. Her wounds smell, her relatives look stunned," said Mr. Schorno.

Hospitals have also been badly affected by water shortages. Local authorities say many pumping stations and are not working and water pipes are likely to have been damaged.

Cité Soleil

Unlike the collapsed concrete structures in other parts of the city, the tin-roofed buildings and shacks in Cité Soleil, one of the area's poorest neighbourhoods, are still standing, although schools, dispensaries and larger stores are destroyed.

Magali, who runs a small restaurant in the shantytown, says she has food to cook but there are few customers and she's had to hike prices since the disaster. "I cook vegetable stew and rice for customers who do not show up. I am here since this morning and I haven't sold anything," she says. "People want credit and I give it to them." Last week, Magali sold a plate of her stew for 35 gourdes or one US dollar. Today, it costs 75.

ICRC activities

The international relief activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, including those of the ICRC, are being coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The ICRC, which was already present and active in Haiti before Tuesday's earthquake, is strengthening its response to the crisis. It continues to support the wider Red Cross and Red Crescent response and the work of the Haitian Red Cross, in particular.

A team of 11 ICRC emergency experts sent from Geneva to Port-au-Prince is now on the ground and working to assess the full extent of the humanitarian needs. Another team of ICRC specialists is expected to fly out on Sunday. There are currently around 70 ICRC staff working in Haiti, including 20 expatriates.

An ICRC cargo plane carrying 40 tonnes of medical supplies was diverted to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic on Friday evening. The seven truckloads of materials will travel overland and are expected to arrive in Port-au-Prince by Sunday. This assistance will enable the organization to adapt its response to the growing humanitarian needs in Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile, Emergency Response Units (ERUs) from Red Cross Societies around the world are also on their way to the Haitian capital to support efforts to provide medical care, water and sanitation services to people in need. In the coming days, at least 14 ERUs are expected to be on the ground and operational. These will include two full-service "base camps," designed to provide all necessary logistical and technical support for the initial relief operation.

Family links

Over the weekend, the ICRC hopes to step up its tracing efforts to help restore links between separated families.

As of 16 January, more than 19,300 people had registered with the ICRC's special website, www.icrc.org/familylinks, which was activated on Wednesday to help people searching for their loved ones.

Almost all of the registrations were from people searching for news about their relatives, although around 1,400 people have so far used the site to say they are safe and well.

ICRC specialists in restoring family links plan to start informing people in the makeshift camps about the service and collecting information from survivors in the coming days.

For further information, please contact:

Simon Schorno, ICRC Port-au-Prince, tel: +41 79 251 9302

Anna Nelson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 3264

ICRC out-of-hours duty phone, tel: +41 22 730 3443