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Haiti faces anger and despair a week after quake, stirring security fears

A resident searches through the rubble of destroyed houses, after the earthquake that took place on August 14th, in Marceline, near Les Cayes, Haiti August 20, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Tensions in Haiti were rising on Saturday over a lack of aid to remote areas of the impoverished country hardest hit by last week’s devastating earthquake that killed over 2,000 people.

Many Haitians whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by the magnitude 7.2 quake that struck on Aug. 14 said they were unsure how to even start rebuilding.

Exasperation over the time it was taking for aid to come through began to boil over on Friday, with residents attacking aid trucks in several towns across the south of the Caribbean nation.

A confrontation also erupted after former President Michel Martelly visited a local hospital in the city of Les Cayes, where one of his staff left behind an envelope of money that set of a violent scramble.

“We are concerned about the deteriorating security situation that may disrupt our assistance to vulnerable Haitians. We are talking to the authorities and all actors to try and prevent this,” said Pierre Honnorat, head of the United Nations’ World Food Program in Haiti.

The official death toll from the earthquake stands at 2,189 people, with an estimated 332 people still missing. But residents in towns across the southern rural countryside are still digging for bodies believed to lie underneath the rubble.

Tens of thousands of homes are in ruins, leaving many families with no option but to sleep outside despite torrential downpours at night. The hurricane season in the Caribbean runs until the end of November and Prime Minister Ariel Henry has warned residents to brace for more storms.

“After the emergency phase, which we hope will only last a few weeks, we will need to start thinking about reconstruction,” Henry told a meeting with the Organization of American States on Friday, appealing to neighboring countries for support and aid.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Twitter that the USS Arlington naval vessel was heading to Haiti carrying helicopters, a surgical team and a landing craft to assist in the relief effort. Several countries, including the United States, have already dispatched aid and rescue teams.

Reaching the areas most in need of help has been hindered by landslides and damage to the main highway, as well as gang fighting that has complicated travel between the capital Port-au-Prince and southern parts of the country where crops and access to drinking water have been destroyed. Some animals kept for food were also killed.

Officials and residents in small towns and rural areas continued to tally the dead and disappeared. For countless others, the earthquake has upended their lives in quieter but enduring ways.

Manithe Simon, 68, stood in front of her collapsed home in Marceline on Friday, shocked at how quickly her honeymoon had turned into a nightmare.

Only days before the quake, Simon and Wisner Desrosier had finally decided to marry in a service in the nearby Baptist church. They had been together 44 years and raised four children together.

Now, the bedroom where she had posed for wedding photographs in a sleeveless white dress, flower petals decorating her bed, lay in a heap of rubble.

“Our wedding was so beautiful, even though it was raining cats and dogs that day,” she said. “But now we have lost everything.”

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