“There are still lives under the rubble”: the anguish over the delay in the rescue one week after the earthquake in Haiti

Etienne is motionless, his gaze blank, lost, as if he were on a long journey.

He does not know where he is, how old he is, what day it is: his watch stopped at 8:30 AM on Saturday, August 14, when the earth shook Haiti and his house, with what little he had, fell on him.

“A beam fell in his face, broke his nose, and he cannot move a leg,” says the son.

“He lost a lot of blood, but we live very far away. I could not do anything. I couldn’t do anything, ”he repeated in Creole to a doctor, who this Friday was trying unsuccessfully to channel a vein to the old man at the Port-au-Prince airport.

“He is very dehydrated. This is an emergency, ”the doctor shouts to some rescuers in an ambulance.

Since last Saturday, when the magnitude 7 earthquake,2 destroyed his house, Etienne and the son have slept under a tarp. There they passed Tropical Storm Grace, waiting for help that only arrived six days later.

And they were lucky.

“We have one very critical situation, because there many injuredSome in very serious situations who have not yet been able to see a doctor or receive any type of health care, ”Stacy House, a doctor from the NGO Project Medishare, tells BBC World, which seeks to bring medical care to disadvantaged communities in Haiti.

“They are simply left to their own devices. There are places where still rescue teams have not arrived. And others where, unfortunately, when they arrive, it is already too late. And not because they died in the earthquake, but because perhaps they had some type of injury with which they could have survived with timely attention. “

Homes damaged by the August 14 earthquake

Getty Images
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake left many homes reduced to rubble.

According to government figures, more than 2,200 people died and another 12,000 were injured in the earthquake, but everyone here says that those numbers do not yet account for the real tragedy.

“Almost a week has passed and as you can see, every little bit more and more injured people come to us. And here they are only bringing the most serious cases, with severe injuries. This makes you realize that the situation is much more complicated“, Tells BBC Mundo Joseph, a young Haitian nurse who also serves as a translator for international doctors.

“Listen,” he says, “there they have more.”

The long wait

In the distance you can hear the thunder of the propellers and the cloud of dust: another helicopter is about to land.

It comes from Annette, a town lost in the southern mountains, almost 2,000 m above sea level, where only rescuers from the US Coast Guard have been able to reach by air.

BBC Mundo reached Haiti with them on a trip for journalists from Miami.


The US Coast Guard deployed planes, helicopters and ships to Haiti.

On the runway, a rescue group waits to remove the wounded from the helicopter-ambulances, which are transporting them two by two, because there is no room for more.

“We are transporting as many people as possible by air day and night, but there are many who are in serious condition who need to be transported to Port-au-Prince,” Víctor Rodríguez, a young Puerto Rican who works for the Coast Guard.

Almost all of those who have brought this Friday have pieces of skin lacerated by the debris. Some are with broken bones, with legs and arms detached like flaps.

Others have huge scabbed wounds that doctors try to clean with sterile water.

A lots of they writhe in pain and scream when they move them.


The wounded are placed on a tarp while waiting for ambulances to take them to hospitals.

It is sometimes the only sign that they are alive: almost all of them are staring, like Etienne.

Other dangers

When the wounded are lowered from the helicopter, they are carried on stretchers to the outskirts of the airport, next to a wide gate that opens onto the runway.

There they have improvised a first aid post on the ground.

It is just a tarp on the dust, in the shadow of a building that barely protects from the suffocating heat of August.

No more than some tables with medical utensils and some mats thin.

They place the wounded on them to identify them and take their vital signs, waiting for an ambulance to arrive to take them to a hospital, if they are lucky enough to have room for them.

Stacy House

Stacy House (in green) tends to one of the injured after the earthquake.

“The situation in hospitals is very delicate because there is no space. Haiti has very few hospitals, so imagine the burden when there are so many injuries that keep coming to you every day, ”House says.

The doctor, however, assures that her concern is not only the wounded who have not received care and who could die without seeing a doctor.

“I am extremely concerned about what will happen after all this with the coronavirus. The delta variant is already here and, after this earthquake and what has happened this week, it is foreseeable that what comes next will be a worse catastrophe. Another… ”, he comments.


Some communities can only be reached by helicopters.

The search

Sitting on a gurney, also staring at nothing, is Widelene, an elderly woman who lost her daughter and two grandchildren in the earthquake.

He does not speak. But a nurse says she has a broken leg and abdominal pain that is still unknown. He was until this Friday in a tent with a neighbor, unable to move. That and her name is the only thing known about her.

However, every time a helicopter arrives, he looks back, as if waiting for an acquaintance to arrive on one of the trips, as if he still had one hope left.


Widelene lost her family after the earthquake.

Each round trip by air from the capital to the south, where the earthquake left the biggest disasters, lasts almost two hours, which further delays the transport of the injured.

To the distant and inhospitable of many of the affected localities are added the damage also suffered by the roads, which has made difficult not only the transfer of the injured, but also the arrival of humanitarian aid.

But motorway breaks have not been the only problem: many of these roads are taken by criminal gangs, which collect taxes or hijack the vehicles that pass through there.

Although a truce between the UN and criminal groups to let aid pass was announced at the end of the week, three doctors were abducted on Thursday, raising fears that first aid may arrive too late.

“And all this happens in a context in which there is a lot of discomfort because people feel that help is not reaching them. A week has passed and there are many people who have nowhere to sleep, who do not have food or water, “says House.

According to preliminary data, more than 53,000 homes were completely destroyed and another 77,000 more were damaged by the earthquake, although there are communities where the impact of the damage is still unknown.

The United States has led the rescue efforts, with support from the United Kingdom, Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, but the consensus among doctors and rescuers is that the proportion of the disaster is greater than the hands that are counted on currently to help.

“Unfortunately, there are still people under the rubble. We are doing everything we can to help tirelessly, but this is a humanitarian disaster, ”says Rodríguez.

House affirms that he feels helpless because he believes that many people do not understand the magnitude of the tragedy that the country is experiencing.

Haiti has experienced so many misfortunes that there are people who think that this is one more. But meanwhile, there are thousands of human beings suffering, people who have lost everything ”, he laments.

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