No resting place for the Haiti victims

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Port-au-Prince is a city of wanderers with nowhere to go – even for the dead

The bodies kept coming. By yesterday afternoon, the Port-au-Prince morgue was full, but still the corpses arrived. They came stacked high in pick-up trucks, they came in piles in police vehicles, and when the mortuary at the hospital could take no more, police and their helpers simply began piling them up outside. Guy Laroche, the hospital director, said he had no idea how many more would come, but he had already received about 1,500.

They were thrown together like commodities with nothing like a shroud or a covering garment, as the Haitian Red Cross had run out of body bags. The Red Cross International Committee said 3,000 more were on the way, but it will take a far bigger number than that to accommodate Port-au-Prince's dead – 40,000? 50,000? – with countless more corpses, stiff and starting to decompose, still visible or half-visible yesterday under the rubble of the wrecked city, or piled into vehicles, or lying scattered by the side of the road.

They ranged from tiny children next to schools, to women in rubble-strewn streets with stunned expressions frozen on their faces. Some were covered by a white cloth or a tarpaulin. Some were covered by nothing, in the sweltering tropical heat. "Things are usually not as bad as the news says. Sincerely, this is worse," a Port-au-Prince resident posted on Twitter. "Dead bodies everywhere. City starting to smell like rotting flesh."

Dust-covered bodies were being dragged along the roads by people trying at least to find somewhere they might decently leave them, while the question of burial – or the lack of burial – was adding to the anguish. "I just want my wife's corpse," said Lionnel Dervil, 38, a money-changer and father of four children who was trying to get in to the Medecins Sans Frontieres compound to examine a pile of bodies, and was being ignored as doctors frantically tended to those still living who had streamed in. "I just want my wife's corpse," he repeated. "I know they are busy tending to the survivors, but there is a room full of bodies that I cannot get to."

Some survivors were attempting to carry dead family members to nearby hills for impromptu burials, prompting Brazil's military, the biggest contingent among UN peacekeepers, to warn the practice could lead to an epidemic. That was the scale of Port-au-Prince's distress last night: it needed not just emergency shelter, food, water, electricity and medical supplies, it needed emergency cemetery capacity.

Many of the living were faring scarcely better, as the first signs of the massive international relief operation began to dribble in to Haiti's capital – infinitely slowly, it seemed to the beleaguered citizens.

There were still no signs of organised rescue operations, and 48 hours after the earthquake had struck, Haitians themselves, desperate fathers, neighbours, volunteers, were still clawing at chunks of concrete with bare hands and battering it with sledgehammers, trying to free those buried alive.

"Recovery efforts are under way but SMALL," said a Twitter post. "A person here or there. No heroics. Just desperation." Some observers thought the contingent of UN peacekeepers around the city seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the recovery task ahead – and possibly by the fact that UN headquarters had been wiped out in the first shock.

"We just don't know what to do," a Chilean peacekeeper said. "You can see how terrible the damage is. We have not been able to get into all the areas." It was the same story with the police. "All the policemen are busy rescuing and burying their own families," said tile factory owner Manuel Deheusch. "They don't have the time to patrol the streets."

What most of the surviving able-bodied citizens of Port-au-Prince seemed to be doing yesterday was wandering, wandering shellshocked through the shattered town, looking for food, water or medical supplies. "The streets are crowded," said another Twitter post. "Hundreds of thousands of people without homes. People walking everywhere." And then a few minutes later: "Many people praying as they walk." The citizens were fearful of going near quake-damaged buildings so stayed in the middle of the road and their very act of doing so was slowing the transport of food and other aid, worsening what the UN was already calling "a logistical nightmare".

Yet from the point of view of people with broken arms and legs and fractured skulls and crushed bodies, it was a continuing medical nightmare yesterday. Severe damage to at least eight Port-au-Prince hospitals made it nearly impossible to treat the thousands of injured, or prevent outbreaks of disease, and at Port-au-Prince's Hotel Villa Creole, furniture was used as stretchers and hotel guests with no medical training worked as paramedics.

Judithe Jacques, who brought her mother, Marguerite, in with a broken knee, fought back tears. "Where are the doctors? We expected doctors," she said. "The hospitals are full, and the people who go there lose their minds."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all