Thursday, January 14, 2010

Subject Study: Haiti

The last few posts I have made centered around what happens during a collapse event.  The terrible tragedy in Haiti is providing one window into what happens when: Infrastructure, order, law, government, and utilities collapse then people are left to try and survive in a crisis situation that occurred a little over 48 hours ago (1/12/10).  The following are based upon current (1/14) observations from boots on the ground reports and news outlets:

>>>Gangs Armed With Machetes Loot Port-Au-Prince Central Business District Resembles Hell On Earth As Bodies Pile Up And Armed Men Battle Over Food, Supplies. On Wednesday they were seen getting into stores and taking all the supplies they could carry. The armed men were seen marching up and down the streets with machetes raised and the competition among the gangs turned quite fierce.  Fights between gangs were seen on the streets. Machetes were flailing and it was impossible to predict what would happen next. There was no sign of police or any kind of law and order.  Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Food is often scarce. Now, with this tragedy, desperate people are doing whatever they have to do to eat. People were seen going into stores and rubble and taking anything they could find with them for their trip back to wherever they were camping out.

>>> Survivors of the earthquake in Haiti that may have killed as many as 100,000 people face deadly outbreaks of diarrhea, measles and malaria after its already fragile clean water and health-care systems were destroyed.  Even before the bodies of the dead have been removed from the rubble, health officials say it’s critical in the next few days that massive containers of water be set up throughout the capital of Port-au-Prince, temporary treatment centers established and tons of antibiotics and basic medical supplies delivered.

Source: Reuters
* Earthquake disaster overwhelms Haiti's weak government
* International aid effort has yet to kick in
* No one in charge, U.S. seen filling the vacuum
By Andrew Cawthorne and Tom Brown PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Desperate Haitians turned rubble-strewn streets and parks into makeshift hospitals and refugee camps on Thursday in the absence of any noticeable response from authorities in Haiti after Tuesday's earthquake. With the 7.0 magnitude earthquake collapsing the presidential palace, a string of ministries and the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, Haiti faces a dangerous vacuum in security and government. The Caribbean nation of 9 million people, the poorest in the western hemisphere, has a turbulent history of conflict, social turmoil, dictatorship, fragile institutions and devastating natural catastrophes. Many in the capital Port-au-Prince picked away at shattered buildings with bare hands, sticks and hammers hoping to find loved-ones alive.

Thousands of homeless people began to set up their own camps anywhere they could, the biggest right opposite the collapsed presidential palace. "Look at us. Who is helping us? Right now, nobody," said Jean Malesta, a 19-year-old student who was the only survivor when her apartment building collapsed from the powerful quake that has killed thousands, possibly tens of thousands. She and a dozen others lay under a tent they had set up in the park opposite President Rene Preval's palace. His weak and under-resourced government appears totally unequipped to handle the crisis, its officials in disarray and nowhere to be seen.

    "So far, they have brought us nothing. We need water, food, shelter, everything, but we are on our own," Malesta added, to cries of agreement from women sitting and lying around her. A major international aid effort has not yet kicked in, although plenty of small groups, many from the United States, have scrambled quickly, moving personnel into Haiti by plane and overland from neighboring Dominican Republic. "The problem is that unlike traditional disaster situations we have few local partners to work with, because most of them have had their buildings destroyed and are looking for their own dead and missing," said Margaret Aguirre, a senior official with International Medical Corps. Haitians are doing their best to survive chaotic conditions in the absence of any clear leadership, said Latin America expert Dan Erikson of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. "The sad truth is that no one is in charge of Haiti today. This vacuum, coupled with the robust response from the Obama administration, has inevitably created a situation where the U.S. will be the de facto decision-maker in Haiti." Even President Rene Preval lost his home. "My palace collapsed. ... I can't live in the palace, I can't live in my own house," he told CNN on Wednesday.

     The 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, which might have been able to step into the void, has been left counting its own dead after its headquarters were destroyed in the quake. The United Nations said 36 of its personnel in Haiti had been killed and many more were still missing. Peacekeepers occasionally patrolled the city in buses and trucks and have mobilized some heavy earth-moving equipment but the blue-helmet soldiers have largely stayed off the streets. Underlying the growing sense of chaos and abandonment around the half-destroyed coastal capital Port-au-Prince, some looting began -- a phenomenon Haitians have seen many times before in past political crises. At one crushed supermarket, young men calmly carried off bags of food and electronics without a policemen in sight. Pickup trucks stacked high with bodies could be seen making their way through traffic-clogged streets on Thursday morning, on their way to drop off the dead at the morgue attached to Hospital General, the city's main health facility. But Guy LaRoche, the hospital's director, said it was already filled to overflowing with more than 1,500 rapidly decomposing bodies. Many had been left lying out in the sun. LaRoche said he had had no contact with any government officials to see what to do with them.

"I'm awaiting the decision of the government. What else can I do?" he said. "The health threat, from disease, could be another catastrophe. We need nurses, medical teams, more of everything." Around the city, many Haitians put rags and masks over their faces as the stench from rotting bodies began to rise. Crushed cars and vans stuck out of collapsed buildings, while children's toys, shoes and papers were scattered on streets. In poor areas, there was little sign of any coordinated rescue activities.
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