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Report from Haiti: Desperate Call for Aid with Rescue Equipment, Medicine, Food & Water in Short Supply

StoryJanuary 14, 2010
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Ansel Herz

independent journalist who has lived in Haiti since September.

Much of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince has been leveled by Tuesday’s earthquake, leaving as many as 100,000 people dead and tens of thousands of people homeless. As of Thursday morning, little aid has arrived in Haiti. Planeloads of rescuers and relief supplies are said to be on the way from the US, EU, Canada, Russia and Latin American nations. We go to Port-au-Prince to speak with independent journalist Ansel Herz. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We now go live to Ansel Herz, an independent journalist who’s been living in Haiti since September. We’re talking to him through Skype.

Ansel, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe the situation at this point?

ANSEL HERZ: People, I think, are still in the streets trying to stay away from houses and walls and buildings that can further collapse, buildings that are fragile. The house that I was staying in, for example, is still standing, it’s one of the few multistory buildings in my neighborhood that did not collapse entirely, but there are cracks in the foundation. So, as your previous guest in the recording said, people are extremely scared, especially when there are aftershocks that seem to just come randomly, that there’s going to be further destruction.

And so, people are in the streets. People are in the public squares, looking, waiting for some kind of help. But there’s really not much of it forthcoming at all that I’ve seen. I was in the streets all day yesterday and the day before since the earthquake. I didn’t see a single aid worker or a single official aid convoy from the Haitian government or from an aid agency or from the peacekeeping force that’s here, the United Nations. So it’s just a terrible situation, and I think people are just trying to survive day to day.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Ansel, what about the local police? Or have there been any organized efforts by some of the communities to try to do some kind of rescue?

ANSEL HERZ: I haven’t seen efforts on a community level, but I have seen efforts of just a dozen or two dozen people centered around a building that’s collapsed, schools that collapsed downtown, hearing children cry out from beneath the rubble, hearing people — or seeing somebody and just trying to dig through with their hands or also with shovels and with pickaxes to try to get those people out. You know, the National Cathedral, for example, a huge part of that building just fell off, and there were a bunch of men trying to pull a woman out from a door. She was just squeezed in there, and she looked like she was nearly dead, but they were just trying to pull her out as hard as they could. And so, there’s a lot of that going on, just ordinary Haitians trying to help each other, because there’s nobody else that they can rely on.

AMY GOODMAN: Ansel, can you describe what happened two days ago at 5:00? Where you were? What did you feel?

ANSEL HERZ: I was in my house in a neighborhood called Jacquet that I share with Haitians. It’s a relatively poor neighborhood below Pétionville, which is the wealthy suburb outside Port-au-Prince — downtown Port-au-Prince. And I was in the second story of the house. Things started shaking. I didn’t really — wasn’t sure what was happening. And then things started falling off the walls. And at that point I realized what was going on. Thankfully, again, my house, our house, did not fall.

But I quickly left the building, and I went outside with my camera to start talking with people, shooting footage. There was just a state of panic in the streets, people screaming, people running every which way. I ended up hopping into a pickup truck with a man who was bleeding profusely from his head. They were, I think, trying to get to some kind of hospital to try to make their way to medical care, and they ended up having to just stop several yards down the road because of a blocked tree. And that man later — he just died a few minutes later, you know, because there was no access to any kind of emergency medical care at that time.

And then there were a lot of buildings in the area that were just collapsed in on themselves, particularly large houses. And I saw people, bodies, you know, just squished between concrete, as well. It was horrible.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of basic infrastructure with the city — electricity, water — what is the situation now? Is it in pockets in neighborhoods, or is it totally out throughout the city?

ANSEL HERZ: I think that some parts of the city do have electricity. Also phone service is really spotty, but occasionally it seems to work. I’ve been able to receive a few calls and, just on occasion, make a call out. But many times, there is no service.

You know, in terms of food and water, there are markets that I’ve seen still operating, where there’s not a lot of destruction. There’s water that’s being sold on the streets. So if you have money, if you’re not totally destitute, which is not the case for a lot of Haitians, I think that you can get by. You can get some of the basic things that you need. But for people who are already poor and without jobs, I don’t know, you know, what they can do in terms of getting food, water and shelter. I think they’re out on the street on their own at this point, and until some kind of large aid effort is able to make its way into the city.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you have any sense of that large aid effort? And can you talk about the twin crises? You’ve got the natural disaster of the earthquake and then the poverty of Haiti and how that exacerbates the first, everything from the way the buildings were built to the mountains, the hills, that are deforested so that the buildings slide down the hills, for example, from Pétionville, deforested because people have gone up desperate over the years for — to get wood for charcoal, anything to help them.

ANSEL HERZ: Yeah. One thing I can say, for example, that’s a little bit striking is that the slum of Cité Soleil, that sprawling slum that’s on the ocean side — I was able to get down there yesterday and sort of survey the scene. And I was actually surprised that the damage was not as bad as I expected, that these are mostly one-room shacks and one-room just concrete buildings. And, you know, some of them had crumbled, certainly. I interviewed people whose houses are gone. But, you know, the majority of the shacks are standing. And so, Cité Soleil, I think, relative to some other parts of the city — Pétionville, that you mentioned, and other parts, Carrefour, certainly — I think Cité Soleil is actually not very hard hit. And that is the poorest part of Port-au-Prince. So I think — I don’t know if you can say that, you know, the poorest people in Port-au-Prince were hit the hardest. I just think that it’s spread out.

And, you know, particularly many of these multistory buildings, schools, churches and some of the larger homes, those are many of the buildings that just fell completely, as well as the National Palace and the prison. I was down at the prison yesterday, as well. And, you know, people were concerned with the fact that prisoners escaped. There was a woman there whose son was inside the prison at the time of the earthquake, and he was gone. She was looking for him. The prison is entirely empty. The roof just seems to have disappeared, sort of collapsed in on the building. And I believe there was a fire there, as well. Parts of the building were charred. So I think it’s, you know, a state of chaos in really different parts of the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the schools?

ANSEL HERZ: Yeah, you know, I think some schools actually let out just before the earthquake, but many of them didn’t. And many —- as I mentioned, many of these schools just collapsed. For example, in Port-au-Prince, there was a multi— — a two-story school, and the second story of the school was just on the ground. And I talked to people there, and many of the children were just immediately crushed. So it’s an extremely sad situation. You have mothers outside, outside of these schools, that I saw just screaming and crying about their children who were dead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the airport, is it open for air traffic coming in now, or is it still closed?

ANSEL HERZ: I can’t confirm that, Juan. I have not been down to the airport. I’m actually, I think, going to be going down there in a little bit. I don’t know what the status is there.

AMY GOODMAN: And the sense of the number of people who have died, although, of course, it’s impossible to figure this out at this point? And we had reports of the Archbishop dead, the head of the UN mission dead, the head of the US mission dead. Of course, you usually hear about foreigners, as people aren’t able to reach them. But what is your sense on the ground, Ansel Herz, in Haiti?

ANSEL HERZ: Yeah, I spoke to, I think, one of your producers last night, and at the time I felt like at least 100,000 was a fair estimate of the number of deaths. You know, there are so many bodies in the street and houses that collapsed and buildings. And I think for each building, you probably have, you know, a dozen or two dozen people who have died. So I felt like 100,000 might be a fair estimate. It’s really hard to know, of course. I heard 50,000 being put out today by some of the officials. They say — hard to say. Whatever numbers there are, as they begin to count, they’re just going to continue climbing until, again, there’s some kind of large aid effort that makes its way into the city. And today we’ve seen really nothing in the way of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Aftershocks?

ANSEL HERZ: Yeah, there were aftershocks last night, just a few. It’s really kind of been eerie and scary in a way, because at midnight, after the earthquake initially, the aftershocks seemed to stop. And I didn’t feel any aftershocks basically all day yesterday, until sort of late in the afternoon. And they just kind of came suddenly here and there. And so, it’s just hard to know. You know, if there’s more, when is it going to stop? But it’s a tough question.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ansel Herz, we want to thank you very much for being with us. We will hopefully continue to get in touch with you to tell us what’s happening on the ground. Do you have a sense of increasing desperation of people as these hours tick by?

ANSEL HERZ: I do. I think that — I think that people are sort of waiting, that sort of waiting. That’s just the sense that I got, that they don’t have options. They don’t know what they can do besides wait, because the Haitian government is so weak. The peacekeepers here who have provided a lot of the logistical support for different infrastructure over the past five, six years, they’re occupied with a lot of their own personnel who were — died or buried beneath rubble. So I think people are waiting, and they’re looking for things that they can do to help each other.

In the meantime, I think they’re all trying to stick together as much as they can. You know, I heard some journalists talk about rumors of theft and violence and civil unrest. And so far, I’ve seen none of that, walking the streets of Port-au-Prince. So that’s my personal view from the ground level. I haven’t seen any large-scale civil unrest. And I think that, you know, really speaks to the resiliency of the people here in the face of this disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Ansel Herz, we want to thank you very much for being with us. He’s an independent journalist speaking to us from Port-au-Prince via Skype. He’s lived in Haiti since September.

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