‘Even Our Animals Did Not Survive:’ Rural Areas Near Haiti Quake Epicenter Are Ruined

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L'ASILE, Haiti – Even the graveyards weren’t spared.

To see the destruction of Haiti’s powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake, one just has to drive the rocky, rural stretch of road between Bonne Fin in the southwest countryside and L’Asile in the neighboring region known as the Nippes.

Churches, schools, homes, all lay in ruin and desolation. Even the mud structures and thatched roof homes that characterize rural communities throughout this dirt-poor Caribbean nation did not survive.

“Look at where I am living,” Bernadette Solomon said, pointing to a structure held up by four worn pieces of wood, with a sheet across the top. “That’s where I sleep. But what are we to do? Even if you see everything we have, get wet in the rain, we stay. What can you do? You can’t kill yourself.”

Solomon was among dozens of people in the hilltop community of Fleurant who had gathered inside an expansive courtyard that once housed a hospital, school and Protestant church. All three structures pancaked and fell.

Miraculously, no one died in any of the buildings. But at least 137 people did die in the Nippes, a remote region close to the epicenter of the earthquake and among the hardest hit areas on the Tiburon peninsula.

Along a stretch of several miles, not one church, school or house was left standing.

“Even our animals did not survive,” said Elize Civil, 30. “They were taken out by the rocks.”

Rural Haiti was already miserable before Saturday. The earth no longer produces like it used to. Staples like plantain and corn are at the mercy of drought and disease. Fresh water springs have long ago dried up, or been contaminated. Rivers are in need of dredging. Roads are unpaved, rocky and back-breaking. Electricity and internet service are all luxuries.

Mercy Corps, a charity preparing to respond to the needs in L’Asile, said in the community of L’Asile, which Fleurant is part of, about 50% of homes have been destroyed and 90% have been affected in some way.

The United States Geological Service reported at least 150 mudslides and rockslides near L’Asile following Tropical Depression Grace.

“Everywhere we went in L’Asile, the majority of public buildings, such as churches, where people would normally shelter were destroyed. At one school which remained intact, 200 plus people are sleeping — and classes are supposed to start on Sept. 6th,” said Christy Delafield, a spokesperson for the charity.

“There just aren’t shelter options right now for people whose homes collapsed or were damaged.”

Delafield said Mercy Corps is working quickly to procure 3,000 kits with essential supplies, including water purification tabs, soap, diapers, mosquito nets, sheets and tarps as well as 3,000 solar lanterns, and plan to provide cash assistance to 5,000 families so they can purchase what they need most.

Preliminary damage assessments from Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection, which is responsible for disaster response, estimates that 60,759 houses have been destroyed and 76,121 others have been damaged in the three regional departments most affected. More than 136,800 families are already registered in the regions.

Haitian authorities, which raised the death toll to over 1,900 late Tuesday, said at least 684,000 people, or 40 percent of the population in the region of Nippes, South and Grand’Anse, where 15 people were killed inside a church during a baptism, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

This includes desperately needed potable water for the community of Pestel, where nearly 1,810 wells cracked or were destroyed in the community.

“Water for drinking and other uses remains urgent,” the office said.

Also urgent is the lack of health facilities, including operating rooms. At least 28 of them were either damaged or destroyed in the tremors, this includes the largest hospital in the community, the 42-bed government-run facility. The hospital’s two-story administrative building buckled during the quake, burying a first floor and taking out offices as well as the maternity, pediatrics rooms and an operating room along with all of the equipment inside.

“As you enter here, you can see that there are houses that have been destroyed...and the hospital has also been hit,” said Dr. Sonel Fevry, the hospital director.

Fevry said fortunately at the moment of the quake there weren’t a lot of patients in the facility and both patients and staff who were inside managed to get to safety before the structure collapsed, blowing out the back concrete block walls.

In the days since, the hospital has been overwhelmed with more than 200 patients, the majority of them with serious injuries, coming to seek care amid a low supply of medical stock, an unsafe structure but a motivated team to assist the best that it could.

On Tuesday, three days after the disaster, five people showed up for medical care with bone fractures received during the quake, said Fevry, adding that the hospital received a few supplies from the regional health department to treat quake victims and assisted in flying out those who were too serious to be treated at the remote facility.

“We found some tents to put patients and support staff, even if it’s not sufficient but [the ministry] doesn’t have a lot,” he said. “All the resources we received as of Saturday, we’ve used them and up until today, we are continuing to receive patients.”

“Up to today,” he added, “there are patients still out there in the community who need help but don’t have the means to get to the hospital. But as they are trickling in, our resources are also diminishing.”

Like every hospital in the south, which continues to struggle to treat patients, Fevry said he needs the most basic of medical supplies: antibiotics, anesthesia, IV, bandages. The hospital also needs a sterilization machine after the one it had went down in the debris of the concrete,and all of its equipment is now in need of cleaning.

When it comes to his needs, Fevry said, “In a moment like a catastrophe like this, everything that we find, we will use, whether it’s food or things to drink.”