LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) — A hospital in southwestern Haiti, where a powerful earthquake flattened homes, shops and other buildings over the weekend, was so overwhelmed with patients that many had to lie in patios, corridors, verandas and hallways. Then a looming storm that could bring heavy rains Monday night forced officials to relocate them as best they could given the hospital’s poor conditions.
Even those patients were somewhat fortunate. Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency on Monday raised the death toll from Saturday’s earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom have had to wait under the burning heat, even on an airport tarmac, for help.
“We had planned to put up tents (in hospital patios), but we were told that could not be safe,” said Gede Peterson, director of Les Cayes General Hospital.
It is not the first time that staff has been forced to improvise. The refrigeration in the hospital’s morgue has not worked for three months, but after the earthquake struck Saturday, staff had to store as many as 20 bodies in the small space. Relatives quickly came to take most to private embalming services or immediate burial. By Monday only three bodies were in the morgue.
The quake, centered about 125 kilometers (80 miles) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, nearly razed some towns and triggered landslides that hampered rescue efforts in a country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti already was struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty and the political uncertainty following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse when the earthquake sent residents rushing to the streets.
And the devastation could soon worsen with the coming of Tropical Depression Grace, predicted to reach Haiti on Monday night with strong winds, heavy rain, mudslides and flash flooding. Rainfall could reach 15 inches (38 centimeters) in some areas, the agency said.
“We are working now to ensure that the resources we have are going to get to the places that are hardest hit,” said agency head Jerry Chandler, referring to the towns of Les Cayes and Jeremie and the department of Nippes, which are in the country’s southwestern portion.
Injured earthquake victims continued to stream into Les Cayes’ overwhelmed general hospital, three days after the earthquake struck. Patients waited to be treated on stair steps, in corridors and the hospital’s open veranda.
“After two days, they are almost always generally infected,” said Dr. Paurus Michelete, who had treated 250 patients and was one of only three doctors on call when the quake hit.
Meanwhile, rescuers and scrap metal scavengers dug into the floors of a collapsed hotel Monday in this coastal town, where 15 bodies had already been extracted. Jean Moise Fortunè, whose brother, the hotel owner and a prominent politician, was killed in the quake, believed there were more people trapped in the rubble.
But based on the size of voids that workers cautiously peered into, perhaps a foot (0.3 meters) in depth, finding survivors appeared unlikely.
As work, fuel and money ran out, desperate Les Cayes residents searched collapsed houses for scrap metal to sell. Others waited for money wired from abroad, a mainstay of Haiti’s economy even before the quake.
Anthony Emile waited six hours in a line with dozens of others trying to get money his brother had wired from Chile, where he has worked since Haiti’s last quake.
“We have been waiting since morning for it, but there are too many people,” said Emile, a banana farmer who said relatives in the countryside depend on him giving them money to survive.
Efforts to treat the injured were difficult at the general hospital, where Michelete said pain killers, analgesics and steel pins to mend fractures were running out amid the crush of patients.