Seeing ‘Nothing to Live For’ as Haiti Seeks a Body Count After Hurricane Matthew

The loss in this coastal town is all but entire. Dead animals float in tidal pools. Cinder-block heaps mark where homes once stood. Trees, stripped of leaves, branches and tops, impale the earth like ragged posts.



But the loss here runs deeper. The local hospital has registered 13 deaths since Hurricane Matthew flung 145-mile-per-hour winds and a wall of water at Port-Salut, but many more have died without so much as an official word.

Emilien Clerveaux died trying to save his daughter, his head split open by flying debris. Elouse Maître’s aunt and four cousins were swept out to sea when the water claimed her beachfront shack. Destine Rosevald’s two children, 6 and 4, died in his arms as he tried to rush them to safety.

“When I think about them, I cry,” Mr. Rosevald said as he stood in a neighbor’s yard on Saturday, water filling his eyes. “She was just in elementary school. My son, he was going to start kindergarten this year.”

As access and information to cut-off areas of Haiti increase after the hurricane, the news only gets worse. The death toll has climbed to nearly 900 people, while an outbreak of cholera in three southern towns has killed 13 people and infected 62 others, health officials said.

For now, though, there is no way to know the precise toll of the storm. There are still 500,000 people stranded in the south alone, officials said, because of extensive damage to an already feeble infrastructure. More than 170 people have been reported dead in Les Anglais, which for now is accessible only by helicopter.

Just as the impoverished island nation, bereft of resources and capacity, struggled to prepare for the storm, the recovery has been hampered by the same shortcomings. And communications have been scattered. Although news outlets are reporting nearly 900 dead, the government has for two days insisted on a figure less than half of that.

That gap is partly the result of how the deaths are reported. The government is counting only those it can verify, a formal process that cannot be completed until access to areas cut off by the storm is restored. But in towns like Port-Salut, many have already buried their dead or stopped searching for loved ones carried away in the storm surge.

“Honestly, we don’t even know how many died,” said Sanite Moïse, seated with a group of women washing clothes in a shallow flood pool. Small children bathed in the murky water.

Mrs. Moïse said her 77-year-old father had died a few days earlier, drowned in the floods that engulfed his home near the beach. When she went to look for him, there was nothing left — just an embankment and washed-up debris. The house, she said, was gone.

“God gives and God takes,” she said with a shrug. “Mankind, for all the evil he does, could never do something like this.”

The devastation in Port-Salut was hard to overestimate. Hardly a home was left untouched, and many were reduced to splinters and rocks. Fields fallowed by salt water baked in the afternoon heat, while palm trees the width of telephone poles were snapped in half.

Periodically, the stench of death wafted through the tropical air, filling nostrils with a choking, rotten smell.

The areas of Port-Salut farther west are the worst hit, with entire stretches of the waterfront washed away. Residents spoke about homes that used to line the picturesque beaches along with restaurants and shops.

Standing by the side of the road, Mr. Rosevald barely registered the activity around him. As men brushed debris from the road and collected wood to reconstruct homes, he leaned against a rusted Mack truck, looking lost.

He could not bear to be near his home, he said.

When the storm hit, Mr. Rosevald tried to remain with his children and mother. But by late Monday, as the wind and rain belted his home, finally tearing off his roof, he decided to flee.

He rushed to the front door but heard a crash in the living room and went running back. He found his 4-year-old son, Kendy, and his mother buried in the wreckage.

He pulled them out and clutched his unconscious son at his waist, determined to get them out of the house. He lifted his daughter, Naomie, onto his shoulders and ran outside, his mother close behind.

Almost immediately, a stick whirred through the air and struck the little girl in the ribs. Frightened by the force of the impact, he looked down at her but kept moving until they reached a neighbor’s house.

By the next morning, both children were dead.

His daughter, he said, was a playful and talkative girl in second grade. She loved math and jumping rope with friends. His son, he said, was a chatterbox and was excited to start kindergarten this year.

Mr. Rosevald paused and apologized for not recalling everything clearly. “They tell me my daughter died a few hours later, at 6 a.m.,” he said. The force of the blow caused extensive internal bleeding, he said.

“My son, they said, was dead the entire time I was carrying him,” he stuttered. The boy was dead the instant the wall fell on him.

On Saturday, residents cleaned up wooden debris that littered the town, working with machetes and axes and stacking trees and branches felled in the storm. Fisherman repaired their nets on the beach.

The water was postcard Caribbean.

At the local hospital, the injured turned up by the dozens. An old man was carried from the bed of a truck into the waiting room, unconscious, as nurses and doctors trained in Cuba attended to him.

A young girl issued bloodcurdling screams as nurses cleaned cuts running up her leg. A young man beside her gingerly touched deep gashes on the back of his neck.

“I knew this place before,” Orthela Genima, a doctor who has worked in the hospital for several years, said of the town. “Now I can’t even recognize it.”

Among those who had lost loved ones, many struggled to recognize even themselves.

“It’s like we are slowly dying,” said Micheline Clerveaux, 18, whose father, Emilien, died Tuesday afternoon. “We have nothing to live for.”

The family was gathered near where its house had been, an area reduced to a mound of stones and an odd assortment of furniture, a dismantled speaker and a wooden box spring. Mr. Clerveaux was buried in the family grave beside the home, a concrete slab sitting above ground, painted a dull blue.

He had been searching for Micheline when the storm raged on Tuesday morning. The family had fled the home moments earlier, seeking refuge in an open field to the west.

The parents split up, and Micheline and her sister, Francise, went with their father. The other four children went with their mother, Marie Rose Jacob.

But when they met in the field and lay flat on the ground to avoid the flying objects, Micheline was missing. A strong gust had knocked her off course, placing her closer to a neighbor’s house.

“He told me he was going to look for her,” Mrs. Jacob said.

After an hour, the children and their mother left the field and, by good fortune, found shelter in the same home where Micheline was taking cover. But Mr. Clerveaux was not there.

They waited until the worst of the storm had passed and went searching for him. Hours passed. Eventually, a few hundred yards away, they found him leaning against a tree, talking to himself.

They hoisted him and looked for injuries. There was a huge wound on the back of his head. At home, lying in bed, he told his wife that he was going to die.

A few hours later, he did.

Mr. Clerveaux was a subsistence farmer, growing corn, potatoes and beans to feed his family. Those crops are now gone, unlikely to grow again in the salt water marsh that his land has been turned into. The family’s livestock — a cow and three sheep — are also lost.

Neighbors pitched in to bury Mr. Clerveaux, and they are housing and feeding his wife and children. They say they will continue for however long it takes the family to rebuild.

“If we survive, they will survive,” said Jean-Robert Nazaire, 56, the neighbor with whom the family took shelter during the storm. “If we have only one loaf of bread to eat, we will share it with them.”

SOurce : http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/world/americas/haiti-hurricane-matthew.html

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