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Haiti After the Earthquake

First-hand account from Port-au-Prince

by Meaghan Balzer

Meaghan Balzer, from Petitcodiac NB, shares her first-hand experience in Port-au-Prince in the days following the earthquake. Meaghan and her partner Bruno Allard had been teaching in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, since September 2009. They remain in Haiti's capital, volunteering with the Red Cross.

It is very difficult to describe what is happening in Haiti right now. The earthquake of January 12th has turned the city into a pile of rubble, affecting every Haitian in the most devastating of ways. As the stories of lost family, friends, and co-workers unbury themselves, no one has time to mourn their loss before another story is revealed. Throughout the first three days after the earthquake, all that could be heard was screaming as loved ones were found under rubble; the nights were filled with people singing songs of healing. Now, the days are silent, and the sound of gunshots echo throughout the night. They began as warnings to potential thieves, but have turned into acts of violence, as desperation rises.

Today is day seven. The major question circulating through my mind is "where is the aid?". Two days ago was the first time that any aid was evident. Prior to that, three doctors, five other teachers, and myself were the only ones providing triage treatment to hundreds, if not thousands, of patients at the largest hospital in Port-au-Prince; L'Hôpital général. Amputations were being carried out outside on the ground, as the aftershocks continued to threaten the stability of the hospital. All patients were without antibiotics, painkillers, or anesthetic. Bulldozers drove past us, scooping up corpses, and dumped them into dump trucks to be disposed of without identification or proper burial.

Not a single helicopter was heard until day three. At this point, wounds were becoming greatly infected with gangrene, and the smell of the city became nauseating. From the point of view of our small team, it seemed as though no one cared about the people of Haiti. We could not understand why it was taking so long to get supplies, yet evacuations of wealthy residents were taking place on a large scale. Furthermore, there were plenty of reporters, but no doctors and inadequate supplies. The Canadian and French Red Cross was supplying us with gauze, gloves, and iodine so that we could try to keep wounds clean but it was clearly a situation that was, and remains, out of control, while the intense aftershocks bring down even more homes, schools, churches, hospitals.

Day six brought evidence of medical aid to L'Hôpital général. Partners in Health, Red Cross organizations from around the world, and the International Medical Corps (IMC) began triaging, and organizing surgical assembly lines soon thereafter. Many were lost that could have been saved had relief come earlier, however the aid from NGOs, as well as several Haitian people, provide tinges of hope throughout this devastation.

So, what will happen to Haiti and Haitians? I fear that once the country is no longer in an official state of emergency, much of the aid will be cut off. How quickly we have forgotten about the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, who continue to require significant amount of aid in the aftermath. Several thousand children will be orphaned from this earthquake, several thousand Haitians will require prosthetic limbs, millions are homeless, without means to potable water or food, and schools and hospitals must be rebuilt. The after effects will be enormous, and we must continue to act and care in order to help heal Haiti.

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