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Haiti quake upends lives already stressed by poverty

Friday, October 12, 2018

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PORT DE PAIX, Haiti (AFP) — Quake-hit Port-de-Paix was back to its daily routines Monday, but in poor neighbourhoods like l'Hopital, on a steep hill that looks out to the sea beyond the Haitian city, people's troubles are just beginning.

Nearly all the flimsily built houses along the mudslicked corridor that runs up the hill through L'Hopital show damage from Saturday's 5.9-magnitude quake.

“When a quake comes, there is always damage and losses,” says Geraldo Mesadieu as he stands outside the one-room dwelling he shares with his wife and four children.

Not one of the room's four walls is intact.

During the quake, Mesadieu's 20-year-old son Joel, his youngest, was seized by panic and ran down the hillside. He stumbled and fell onto a sharp metal object and was killed — one of 15 deaths from the quake.

“I should have gone to live some place else because the hillside is too steep here. I built a small wall below to support it a bit, but as you can see, all the walls are cracked,” he said.

“The problem is, down below, the land is too expensive,” he said as he looked out to the sea.

In a country where building standards are not respected, and urban planning is non-existent, a medium-intensity quake is enough to cause loss of life and material damage.

Saddened by the death of her neighbour, Limita Axius returned Monday to her home, but just for a change of clothes.

“I can't sleep here with all the cracks in the walls. I'm sleeping in a church for now, but I don't know how long I'll be able to,” said Axius, who is 23.

“To go somewhere else to live I need money, so I have to resign myself and return here, even if it is dangerous,” she said.

While Port-de-Paix's precarious hillside dwellings were the hardest hit by the quake, some buildings in the centre of the city were also damaged.

AN OLD HOUSE

Her gray hair arranged in small tresses, 77-year-old Virginia Vincent is a picture of vulnerability as she sits in a small chair set in the doorway of her house, on a corner in the centre of Port-de-Paix.

“The house has been here since President Estime,” she said, referring the 1946-1950 presidency of Leon Dumarsais Estime.

“Two hurricanes have passed since I've lived here, and the house always stood straight. But look at it now, it wants to fall down on me.”

The old house's walls are cracked and crumbling, its wood frame apparently unable to hold their weight during the seconds that the quake lasted.

“I no longer have a place to sleep, I can't go on,” she said, suddenly bursting into tears as a neighbour tries to console her.

“I have suffered every possible misery, even at my age. I have no children, no one who can come to help me.”

Shoe shine boys, a bread seller, the driver of a moto-taxi — all are saddened as they pass to see the suffering of an old woman, but powerless to offer anything more than a consoling word.

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