Tales from the Trail

Haiti’s forgotten bodies

January 16, 2010

QUAKE-HAITI/As a ragtag group of Haitian rescue workers tried to dig a dead man from underneath a collapsed telecoms company building in Port-au-Prince this week, the firm’s owner told me how the 40-year-old security guard had been a cherished employee.
 
Only a short time before, Tarek el Bakri, a Lebanese businessman who lived at the top of the now perilously slanted building, had paid for the funeral of the man’s grandson, so much was he part of the family. Now he was paying workers to free his corpse.
 
The workers yelled and squabbled about how best to get at him — only his arm, shoulder and head were visible — without causing the structure, which had desks sandwiched between its layers, and a car crushed underneath, to collapse further.
 
A water mains had burst, causing a small fountain to spray out near the dead man’s head. At one point an excavator churned toward the site, but the workers waved it away.
 
The man had three children, el Bakri told me. He was crushed along with two cleaning staff. In all, Bakri lost 11 employees in offices across the city, as well as his own home.
 
He said he was the only one pushing for the bodies to be pulled out. He hadn’t heard anything from city officials about what he should do. “In any other country people would gather together to help each other,” he said. “Here you are on your own. Nobody cares.”
 
When I returned a day later, the man’s corpse was still there. His dark skin dustier than before. The fountain was still spurting.
 
I remembered then what el Bakri had told me: looters squeezed in to steal all the office computers and cell phone stocks well before anybody had tried to free the victims.

 

QUAKE-HAITI/

Reuters photos by Eduardo Munoz and Carlos Barria.

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