Haiti raised the death toll on Wednesday from January’s quake to more than 217 000, while the focus turned to providing shelter for the homeless before heavy rains and hurricane season come.
“There are people who put forth the figure of 230 000, but we have counted a bit more than 217 000. These are verified figures,” Interior Minister Paul Bien-Aime said.
The government also declared a day of mourning for Friday to mark one month since the quake struck, bringing death and destruction on an unprecedented scale to the desperately poor Caribbean nation.
“There are around 1,2-million people without shelter,” David Pappiat of the British Red Cross told a summit in Montreal attended by Red Cross and Red Crescent delegations from 23 countries and two international bodies.
“We’re trying to set up shelters that can withstand the coming rainy season, the hurricane season, and that can last three to five years,” said Haitian Red Cross president Michael Amedee Gedeon.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has deployed about 600 people to Haiti to help with relief efforts.
“Shelter is a huge issue,” agreed Lewis Lucke, United States coordinator for relief and recovery in Haiti, speaking in Port-au-Prince.
A monumental challenge
“Nothing really compares in terms of [this] monumental challenge, for right now and for the coming weeks before the rainy season and months before the hurricane season,” he said.
Lucke said relief workers aimed to supply everyone with plastic sheeting by May 1, the nominal start of the rainy season.
The relief effort received a boost from private donors, whom the United Nations said had given more money than the single biggest national donor, the US.
Individuals and businesses were said on Wednesday to have given $118-million to help quake victims since the disaster, more than the $115-million donated by the US government.
Still, massive problems loom, and the security situation in the makeshift camps and across Port-au-Prince remained precarious.
More than 50 looters besieged a quake-hit supermarket on Wednesday, just hours after a fresh part of it collapsed as contractors searched for the remains of those buried by the January 12 quake.
Half-a-dozen shots were fired as owners tried to disperse the mob — some of whom were armed with knifes — as people raided the supermarket’s underground depot, making off with toy cars, garden chairs and other goods.
On Tuesday night rescue workers spent about six hours trying to dig out another group of looters believed to be trapped in a five-story supermarket when its roof fell in, bringing slabs of tangled steel and concrete down on top of them.
Although the coordination of the massive international aid effort has improved beyond recognition from the chaotic early days after the quake, one month on relief still fails to reach some of those most in need.
“I know that the world is helping us and many nations are sending us food and medicine,” said 40-year-old Clotilde Muratus.
“We need help and we will need help for a long time, but unfortunately we haven’t yet seen that we are receiving much help,” she said as she watched with resignation a UN food distribution she could not access.
‘She said she came to Haiti to help me’
Meanwhile, 10 US Baptist missionaries charged with kidnapping 33 children after the earthquake appeared together in court again on Wednesday, along with some of the children’s parents.
Judge Bernard Saint-Vil interrogated the American church group members separately on Monday and Tuesday, and is speaking to some of the parents this week.
The 10 Americans from the New Life Children’s Refuge have claimed they harboured no ill-intent in taking a busload of children they thought were orphans across the border into the Dominican Republic.
But some of the children’s parents have said they had reached a deal to give away their kids.
Johnny Antoine (33), the father of a 10-month-old child he entrusted to the group of missionaries, said he wanted to see the Americans freed.
Antoine said he had willingly given his child over because his house had collapsed and he had little means to care for the infant. He said he had spoken to the missionaries’ leader, Laura Silsby.
“She said she came to Haiti to help me,” he said, adding he had hoped his child would be returned to him later after receiving care and schooling.
A US diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Americans had been receiving regular consular visits. — AFP