PORT-AU-PRINCE — Screaming as the doctor cleaned and dressed her leg, Lenas then lay back on the bed, drawing breath and, after a couple of minutes, regaining her composure.
“The ground shook for at least thirty seconds, I never knew anything like it,” she said, speaking in Haitian Creole.
“When it was over I was buried. The house was down around me, dust everywhere. I thought I was dead for sure.”
Lenas, 25, spent five hours under the rubble, her leg crushed. Only on Jan. 18 was she receiving her first treatment since the disaster — her leg a nasty mix of bruising, swelling, bleeding and infection.
“I am in a lot of pain,” she said, holding back tears, as Madame Judy, a Haitian nurse who lives in Miami, comforted Lenas at the Medishare field hospital in a UN compound in Port-au-Prince.
“I flew home as soon as I heard about the disaster on the news,” Judy said. She arrived in Port-au-Prince late on Jan. 12, ahead of the posse of international aid workers who subsequently struggled to gain access to the country.
The tiny international airport has one runway, and when the US military took over operations there, some aid workers and relief material was held up. It took this correspondent two days to get to Port-au-Prince from Miami, after being diverted to Jamaica.
The international aid effort has been rightly criticized for slow delivery in the days since the earthquake. However, Haiti’s transport and communications infrastructure was rickety enough before the disaster. The earthquake left the capital a rubble-strewn mess, akin to a war zone.
Aid workers have been doing their best, for the most part. GOAL, an Irish non-governmental organization (NGO), carried out one of the first distributions of aid by any NGO last Wednesday, delivering rice, shelter and hygiene materials donated by the US, Canadian and Irish governments.
There was enough for 300 families in this first round, leaving many who showed up disappointed at not getting anything. GOAL will return to the area, called Turgeau, this coming Saturday, to repeat the delivery to the rest of the community.
However, worries about security are stalling the delivery of aid. Although US troops are deploying alongside an enlarged UN peacekeeping mission, the impact, though tangible, has not yet led to the necessary free-flowing movement of aid into the country and on to the estimated 1.5 million Haitians left homeless.
In Delmas, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Napoleon Donat said his neighborhood needs water, “but we have tents, and the school down the road gives us a meal a day, for now anyway.”
Donat, who lived in Brooklyn for five years, thanked God that his family survived the earthquake, but lamented that “my best friend was killed.”
In New York-accented English he said “we’ve seen some [aidworkers] across the way,” pointing into the next block. “But by the time we get over there to try get them to come look at us, they’re already gone.”
GOAL Emergency Coordinator Brian Casey said that “we are very frustrated at the slow progress overall, but we are working day and night to get things going. NGOs like GOAL are drop in the ocean, given the scale of this disaster.”
Many are looking to the US to provide the logistical support needed to unclog the aid jam into and around Haiti.
“The city is very difficult to get around, there is rubble everywhere, traffic is chaotic as the police are working at 20 percent capacity,” said Casey. “But we are hopeful that the security and logistical challenges can be dealt with in good order, so we can get on with helping the people.”Show