January 15, 2010 / 4:50 PM / 10 years ago

Third night of torment in Haiti's destroyed streets

By Catherine Bremer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Picking his way through the patchwork of moaning bodies lying on makeshift pavement beds the young man touches my arm.

"Please Miss, do you speak French? My father has just died, what should I do? Can you help?"

A volunteer medic checks the pulse of the old man, who has lain here on a wooden door for two days, his broken foot wrapped in a blanket, and confirms he died a few moments ago, another victim of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

He tells the son he’ll try to find a sheet to cover him but first has to deal with a woman screeching wildly in a fit of hysterics, just drowning out the howls of a girl who is having a gaping wound in her shin sewn up under the glare of a mechanic’s lamp.

Across the Haitian capital thousands spent a third night on Thursday twisted in pain, lying on sidewalks waiting for help. Desperation turned to panic as more deaths loomed.

"We’ve been out here waiting for three days and three nights but nothing has been done for us, not even a word of encouragement from the president. What should we do?" said Pierre Jackson, 35, nursing his mother and sister who lie on blankets whimpering with crushed legs.

In this small patch of people alone, volunteer medics say a dozen have died of critical injuries since Tuesday despite their round-the-clock efforts bandaging broken limbs and carrying out open-air surgery with local anesthetic.

Foreign aid is now flowing into Haiti. But the inability of the government to coordinate getting proper medical attention to the countless wounded is becoming critical.

"We lose a few more every day. I’m completely traumatized," says Kliford Archer, a 19-year-old volunteer who has worked through three days and nights administering first aid.

"We have smashed heads, internal bleeding, broken bones. But we have no real medicine, no anti-inflammatories and very few needles. We have no information, no one is telling us anything. Lots more people are going to die."

Behind him, a man with an apparently broken back rolls his eyes in agony but makes no noise, while a woman with a broken knee screams like a wild animal, her face contorted with pain.

Haitian President Rene Preval has barely been seen since the quake toppled his presidential palace, and the collapse of the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s headquarters in the impoverished nation has further crippled rescue efforts.

At makeshift refugee camps across the city, earthquake victims share food and water brought by relatives, sleep lined up in rows and comfort each other singing lilting prayers in Creole.

Every few minutes somebody asks me if I can change a bandage, find them a painkiller or show them how to make a splint for a broken limb. They ask when the doctors will arrive with proper equipment.

I lend my satellite phone to the dead man’s son so he can call his sisters in New York and tell them their father is dead. A woman comes over and tears up a sheet to bind his feet so he can be lifted and taken away. (Reporting by Catherine Bremer, editing by Anthony Boadle and Eric Beech)








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