After Haiti quake, hospitals fill with injured persons

Earthquake victims with broken bones and open wounds filled a hospital courtyard in this rural coastal city on Monday, desperate to evacuate for better medical care elsewhere in the country.

But the window was quickly closing as approaching Tropical Depression Grace threatened to drench the country — adding to the already difficult challenges for international rescue efforts after Saturday’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake leveled buildings and killed an estimated 1,300 people all along Haiti’s southwestern peninsula.

“We are at the mercy of God,” said Francesse Moril, 24, who lost her home in the earthquake. Moril sat under an open UNICEF tent at the bedside of her friend, Michaela Belcombe, 53, a mother of five and grandmother of three.

They were part of a chaotic scene unfolding outside Les Cayes’ hospitals as hundreds of others like them sought help. One private hospital with 64 beds was already running low on basic supplies, such as medical tape, painkillers and antibiotics. Many of the victims here did not want to be moved indoors as the ground in Haiti continues to convulse with aftershocks. Instead, they gathered in the courtyard.

Workers bandaged injuries on the ground. Others rolled out patients in recliner chairs and lifted them into waiting pickup trucks and SUVs to be taken to the airport. One mother whose face had been bludgeoned and bloodied by falling concrete was forced to choose which of her injured children to seek help for first.

At the government-run OFATMA Hospital, an awning-covered walkway has been converted into a patient ward. The doctors’ residence is now an operating room and a school bus is now an ambulance for those too injured to receive care here who must be transported to Port-au-Prince.

The hospital, its walls cracked from the earthquake, is one of three in a devastated city where doctors must quickly assess injuries and decide who should be flown out now and who can stay as Grace approaches and aftershocks continue.

‘A bad situation’

Belcombe, one of the patients, said concrete blocks in her partially collapsed home fell on her. The home was already wiped out by Hurricane Matthew five years ago and she had not yet fully rebuilt the structure. Attached to an intravenous tube and with her left leg bandaged, she prayed for divine intervention to bring respite to Haiti’s string of misfortune.

“My leg hurts, my waist hurts,” Belcombe said. “And now bad weather is coming? Only God can save me.”

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At the government-run OFATMA Hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti, people injured in Saturday’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake receive care under a tent on Monday. The doctors’ residence has been converted into an operating room and a school bus is serving as an ambulance to evacuate the most seriously injured to the capital city, Port-au Prince. Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald Staff

At the airport in Les Cayes, Richard Hervé Fourcand, a former Haitian senator who loaned his personal airplane to ferry the injured to Port-au-Prince for medical help, said the hospitals were at capacity.

“We have a very, very bad situation right now,” he said. “The hospitals we have cannot do anything.”

Like others, Fourcand had flown into Les Cayes to help however he could. Fourcand said he had arranged about 25 rescue flights out of Les Cayes, mostly by persuading pilots who had brought search-and-rescue teams, international humanitarian workers and journalists to ferry back injured residents.

The need for drinking water, food and shelter is great, he said.

“Tents are very important,” he said, “because the people don’t want to sleep inside the house.”

Magalie Dresse, a Haitian entrepreneur and co-owner of Caribbean Craft, a manufacturer of arts and crafts products, flew in from Port-au-Prince to help injured friends and family who either needed to evacuate for medical help or to stay and prepare for the approaching storm.

Dresse said she lost two cousins in Saturday’s earthquake, which also felled the 100-year-old family home on the peninsula where she vacationed regularly. The disaster also displaced her elderly uncle, whom she was evacuating from Les Cayes ahead of the storm

She told a story of how her cousin, a woman also named Magalie, had rushed back into her house to save her 16-year-old daughter, but died inside with her husband. The girl survived, Dresse said, and was airlifted to get medical care “outside of Haiti.”

Rebuilding stronger

As she waited at the airport, Dresse reflected on the series of natural disasters and other calamities that have befallen Haiti, including the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, that draw international attention but often leave the country in worse shape.

“We are unfortunately again bitten directly,” Dresse said. “But I’m trying to see how we can, as Haitians on the ground, connect with our families here and see how we can help.”

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People injured in Saturday’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti seek medical help at hospitals that are overrun with patients and must evacuate the most seriously injured to seek medical care elsewhere. Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald Staff

Dresse’s business, which employs mostly women, received financial support from foreign investors after the January 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000 people to help rebuild Haiti’s economy. Dresse said she was in Atlanta when the 2010 earthquake struck, and that the disaster destroyed her business. But the foreign investment helped.

She said most of her employees had lost their homes, and many people sought refuge on the company campus in Port-au-Prince because they felt safer there. They lived outdoors and struggled to find enough drinking water, food and shelter, she said.

But Dresse said she also noticed that many of the survivors found solace from the disaster in work and other routines that brought back a sense of normalcy.

“That’s what motivated me to reopen very quickly,” she said. “The same week after the earthquake, we got everybody working. We had 121 people working on my site. We had 700 refugees in the garden and we had to get them back to work.”

This time, Dresse said she is focused on finding a way to prevent a repeat of the same tragic cycle for Haiti: disasters, followed by international attention and relief efforts that result in little lasting change. Though grateful for the international assistance that has poured in to Haiti, Dresse said she wants to create a more sustainable and resilient nation that can determine its own future.

“We don’ t need visibility. We need strategy, we need plans and we need commitment,” she said. “I found that too many times, Caribbean Craft, my company and myself, we’ve been showcased. But at the end of the day, has it really changed the life of artisans?

“No,” she said, “and the reason why is because some connections were not sustainable. They were just there as, I would say, a PR event, but not to build something stronger. But it is not the fault of the foreigners, and I have to be clear about that. It’s the fault also of us Haitians, who are unorganized and not united. It’s time for us to stand together and be united and to join forces. And I would really push one thing forward: We need to see the emergence of new leaders, people who would speak up for a nation, people who are ready to step up to the game and build this country.”

Assessing the damage

As Haiti works to rebuild, the extent of the earthquake’s damage was still coming into focus on Monday.

Officials on Sunday evening said 1,297 people were confirmed dead, 5,700 injured and 30,250 families were homeless following the strong quake. A day after the tremor, people in Haiti’s government and across an array of humanitarian organizations said some of the hardest hit communities were in desperate need of potable water and temporary shelters to house families who lost everything.

Amid the uncertainty, aid workers assessed damage and took stock of what will be a significant recovery effort for a country still struggling to recuperate after the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which wiped out agricultural crops.

On Sunday night, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry told the Miami Herald that emergency responders are confirming more deaths amid ongoing search and rescue efforts. He visited Les Cayes, the peninsula’s largest city, which was pummeled by the quake, leaving many dead or homeless.

“Today in Les Cayes, there are several places I visited and there are still corpses underneath the rubble,” he said, adding that the current death toll would rise. “In my mind the [current] tally isn’t that far off from the final number, but I can’t say for sure.”

The main supermarket and smaller grocery stores in Les Cayes collapsed, leaving about half a million people with dwindling food supplies and drinking water. Many hospitals and clinics were heavily damaged, leaving the area with limited numbers of medical facilities and doctors. Aid workers in Haiti said that doctors had to treat injured people on the floor or outside.

“It’s an area that’s been totally destroyed,” Haitian Sen. Joseph Lambert told the Herald on Sunday. “The situation is very chaotic. It is certain that in the days to come there will be huge sanitary problems, food shortage problems and famine.”

Profile Image of Jacqueline Charles

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.

Profile Image of Daniel Chang

Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to untangle the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals and health policy for readers.