PORT-AU-PRINCE – The moneychangers have started waiving their wad of Gourdes and Dollars at passing vehicles. The gasoline lines have ebbed considerably and a few supermarkets have open up shop so people can get a few provisions.
Two weeks after an earthquake wiped out this capital city and other towns south of here, Haitians struggle to regain a sense of normalcy.
Of course, there is nothing normal about life in Haiti these days. The earthquake destroyed about 40 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince, 60 percent in Jacmel and 90 percent of Leogane. Still, people carry out their daily chores seemingly ignoring the destruction that surrounds them.
At the Unitransfer on Rue Christophe in St.Marc, Haiti’s fifth largest province, scores of people stood or sat under the morning sun.
Security guard Diverne Pierre manned a gate, letting one person inside at a time while attempting to keep the crowd outside under control.
Ordinarily it takes about four minutes for a customer to receive or pick up a money transfer. Since the Unitransfer office reopened a week after the earthquake, the process has been arduous and disorganized, averaging up to an hour per person.
“There is no system at the bureau, which is part of the problem” Pierre said. “Many people have been coming to the bureau. They want to pick up their money. They’re frustrated. Some have started to argue, fight. The lines are long.”
Over the weekend, Pierre said the office called St.Marc police officers to help control the crowd. “We’ll likely call them today,” Pierre said.
Mirielle St. Chaelle of Port-au-Prince lost her home in the earthquake. It sat near the ruined Hotel Montana. On Monday, she traveled to a money transfer in Montrouis (ck spelling) only to find a crowd outside. St. Chaelle hoped to find a shorter line in St. Marc..
“I came to pick up some money that my father sent from Boston,” an exasperated St. Chaelle said.
Bosquet Ostin shuttles commuters between Port-au-Prince and St. Marc. He lost two children, a 14- and 22-year-old in the earthquake. “Life has to continue,” he said. “I have to go on.” He hopes to find work as a mechanic in Port-au-Prince despite his personal loss.
In Port-au-Prince, frustrations grew as Brazilian U.N. peacekeeping troops fired tear gas at a unruly crowd of thousands of people Haitians crowding a food distribution center near the destroyed Presidential Palace.
“They’re not violent, just desperate. They just want to eat,” Brazilian Army Colonel Fernando Soares said. “The problem is, there is not enough food for everyone.”
Foreign aid workers have increased food distribution after relentless complaints that food and water is not reaching the victims quickly enough.
“Yesterday they gave us rice, but there was not enough. There were too many people,” said Wola Levolise, 47, who is living in the camp with her nine children.
The World Food Program said it handed out 60 tons of food at the camp but ended the distribution early when the crowd got out of control.
“The vast majority of distributions in Haiti are being carried out in an orderly manner. There are isolated, regrettable incidents but these are the exceptions and not the rule,” a WFP spokesman said.
The U.N. agency said it has delivered nearly 10 million meals to almost 450,000 people since the quake.
Unsanitary living conditions in Port-au-Prince have raised fears of an outbreak of disease.
The U.S. military said it could scale back its involvement within three to six months as other international organizations assume larger roles providing security and disaster relief. It does, however, plan to help build a 5,000-bed hospital to provide longer-term care to quake victims.
The United States has dispatched more than 15,000 military personnel to Haiti. About 4,700 are deployed on the ground with the rest on ships off the coast.
The capital’s destroyed downtown commercial area, however, had few open shops. Scavengers picked at smashed buildings for planks of lumber, steel bars and other building materials.
Authorities are trying to relocate at least 400,000 survivors from more than 400 makeshift camps across Port-au-Prince to temporary tent villages outside the city.
Health Minister Alex Larsen said 1 million Haitians had been displaced from their homes in the wrecked capital. The government had tents for 400,000 to be used in the new, temporary settlements, but said it would need 200,000 more.
The need for tents is especially urgent due to the upcoming rainy season, which begins in April.
Almost daily aftershocks have shaken Port-au-Prince since the quake, raising the possibility the city might have to be rebuilt on a safer location, away from geological fault lines.
The United Nations said the exodus of quake victims out of the capital has slowed to a trickle, with less than 1,000 leaving over the past day. Since the quake about 236,000 people have left for the countryside but the United Nations said most had moved in with relatives and large-scale shelter wouldn’t be needed.
Garry Pierre-Pierre reported from Port-au-Prince and Josee Valcourt reported from St. Marc.