Haiti mourns one month after devastating quake

Haiti observes a day of mourning on Friday to mark the one-month anniversary of the devastating quake that killed more than 210 000 people and left an estimated 1,2-million people homeless.

A ceremony was scheduled in the city centre, where the stately National Palace lies in ruin and the Champ de Mars square has been turned into a huge homeless camp with shelters made of sheets and spare wood.

The government said it would set up large screens at some of the homeless camps so people could follow the ceremony. It also urged Haitians to wear either black or white to show respect for the dead.

Friday’s memorial comes after the first heavy rain since the earthquake brought new misery to Haitians.

A Thursday downpour was a reminder that as the rainy season approaches, adequate shelter was still needed for the 1,2-million still sleeping in the streets.

The rain started before dawn in a city jammed with homeless encampments. Many people lost everything in the magnitude 7,0 January 12 earthquake, and have only the barest protection from the elements.

At the Champ de Mars camp, where conditions are fast becoming a health concern, people spoke of scrambling for cover.

“I tried to take cover in a corner, under a tarpaulin,” said Demosthene Wisler (23). “Everything’s wet. The clothes are wet. There’s no roof.” He said he joined an early morning protest to demand tents.

Haitian authorities have warned the rainy season, which starts in March, is now the greatest threat the impoverished Caribbean country faces.

An estimated 50 000 families, or about 272 000 people, have received emergency materials to build their own shelters, according to the UN office that coordinates humanitarian affairs.

Fleeing the country
Amid the desperation, a US Coast Guard cutter returned 78 Haitians who were picked up off the Bahamas fleeing their country in an overloaded sailboat.

The Coast Guard said there was no sign that more Haitians than usual were leaving the country by sea, but said it had nevertheless stepped up patrols in the Caribbean.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday she would propose starting work on an EU military mission “to provide shelter in Haiti ahead of the rainy season”.

Ashton’s spokesperson, Lutz Guellner, however, said it will take up to 15 working days just to launch the mission.

Meanwhile, 10 Americans charged with kidnapping 33 children could remain behind bars until at least next week, with the prosecutor in the case yet to decide whether they should be freed.

“We are stopping for today and I am coming back on Monday to continue to examine the dossier,” prosecutor Jean Serge Joseph said after deliberations on Thursday.

“I must send conclusions to the judge concerning the detention order. I cannot say whether it will be favourable or not.”

The failure to reach a decision raised the possibility that the US Baptist missionaries would remain behind bars until at least after the weekend because of Friday’s day of national mourning.

Judge Bernard Saint-Vil sent the defence team’s request for provisional release to the prosecutor after more than two days of hearings, including testimony from the Americans and parents of the children.

He said he did not make a recommendation to the prosecutor, though Saint-Vil has final say in the case.

“I have communicated all aspects of the dossier to the Port-au-Prince prosecutor, including the request for release by the Americans’ lawyers, for his conclusions,” said Saint-Vil.

The 10 Americans from the New Life Children’s Refuge were caught trying to take a busload of children they said they thought were orphans across the border into the Dominican Republican.

After it emerged the children had parents, the Americans’ lawyers have sought to portray the Baptists as acting selflessly to help during Haiti’s catastrophe.

Some of the parents have told the judge in the case they willingly gave up their children because they were unable to care for them following the devastation wrought by the quake. — AFP

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