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'They are dying while you are waiting!'

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Laura Redpath, Senior Gleaner Writer

A patient sits quietly waiting for medical treatment at the Santé Bernhard Meus Hospital in Port-au-Prince. The sign around her neck when translated reads: 'Urgent, internal bleeding'. - Photos by Laura Redpath

Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

A dead man's body was being kicked around on a street corner. He tried to steal one night and the people let him go. He tried to steal the next night and they killed him. A few feet away from that corner, a building had collapsed and the smell of rotting corpses was becoming stronger every minute.

The streets in downtown Port-au-Prince were filled with people, hungry and thirsty. Some were wearing masks because of the stench of dead bodies while others who couldn't do better because they now lived on the street, sat with the corpses.

"Do I go?" Kathleen Zuraik asked when she stopped the car.

There was a light pole, broken at the base and barely propped up at a 45-degree angle ready to fall across the street at any minute.

"Yes," her passengers answered.

She gripped the steering wheel, took a deep breath and put her foot on the gas pedal, saying her prayers the whole way.

Zuraik is one of the many organisers facilitating Haiti relief efforts. She works closely with Santé Bernhard Meus, a hospital that has been providing health care to those injured in last Tuesday's disaster.

The streets downtown are filled with people who are scared to go into their homes. Buildings, cracked and visibly unstable, could come down at any moment.

"Look at that!" Zuraik pointed to the ruins of a bank. "I don't know how people are going to get their money out."

Lines of demarcation

As dusk fell, and the 7 p.m. curfew got closer, persons were getting agitated. Many ran around grabbing blocks to place around their sleeping quarters in the middle of the streets. These are meant to be used as lines of demarcation for their 'living quarters' once they settled down for the night in the darkness.

Doctors are feeling the strain of doing multiple operations in a day and working with limited supplies. Saturday evening, Jamaican doctors discussed strategies to make the available medical supplies last longer. Meanwhile, supplies are packed and ready to be shipped, but have not left Jamaica, and supplies that get to Haiti have to wait on clearance.

"People are dying!" Zuraik shouted at anyone who would listen. "They are dying while you are waiting!"

Flies buzz around this girl's bandages as she waits for a consultation at the Santé Bernhard Meus Hospital in Port-au-Prince.