Ten days since the earthquake struck, crowds of Haitians are scrambling to quit the stricken city of Port-au-Prince. The initial shock of the magnitude 7 quake that left the 3 million residents of the capital dazed has been replaced by an urgent instinct to flee.
Aid officials said some 200,000 people have crammed into buses, nearly swamped ferries and set out even on foot to escape the ruined capital. Convoys of free buses laid on by the government have started ferrying people out of Port-au-Prince and into the countryside, where food is more plentiful and shelter easier to find. Many thousands more homeless residents are heading east by bus, to the border of the Dominican Republic, aiming to cross into a happier nation.
The government plans to create refugee villages outside the crushed capital, each housing 10,000 survivors, up to a total of about 400,000. The new camps "are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities," Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval, told The Associated Press news service. The authorities are expected to start moving quake refugees to the first of the planned camps by the end of the month, but aid agencies are cautious about that timetable.
The move will be voluntary and temporary, said Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva. "It's to help them in a first move. After, the people will decide if they want to stay," she said.” Computer teacher Daniel Dukenson walked across the capital and caught a bus to take his family from their collapsed home to crowd in with a cousin in the seaside town of St. Marc, two hours away. "I'd like to go back, but it's going to take a lot of time for Port-au-Prince to get back on its feet. Two years, maybe," the 28-year-old said. Geffard Guilene, a 21-year-old secretarial student was in the Port au Prince suburb, Pétionville, where she had been living under plastic sheets among hundreds of people crowded into the main square. Queuing for the bus to the town of Jacmel, she said: "I can't stay here any more.” "It's too hot in the square, there are too many people." "We are living like animals here," another man said. "We are having to pee beside our beds, and that's not healthy. The smell is awful, infection is setting into the wounds of the injured; the kids are in trauma."
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children
Donate to the SOS Children Haiti Appeal