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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Desperate rural survivors feel forgotten by international aid


By JONATHAN M. KATZ
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

U.N. peacekeepers from Sri Lanka distributed water yesterday in Leogane, and said they expected U.N. food supplies to arrive later in the day.

LYNNE SLADKY | Associated Press

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LEOGANE, Haiti As aid masses in Haiti's devastated capital, time is running out in rural areas where the damage is no less severe. In Leogane, frustrated men gathered yesterday with machetes and clubs, ready to fight for a town they said the world has forgotten.

All along the cracked highway heading west along the bay from Port-au-Prince, people begged for help. "SOS," declared a sign near Leogane. "We don't understand why everything is going to Port-au-Prince, because Leogane was broken, too."

Leogane's city center is a rubble pile spiderwebbed with fallen power lines, coastal Haiti re-landscaped as a post-apocalyptic film set. Two mass graves flank the road to the capital, a few yellowed bodies thrown in to start a third.

At the corner of Rue La Croix and Pere Thevenot, a charming two- story built in 1922 that last week housed a pharmacy and a florist is a brickyard sepulcher for the couple who died trying to escape.

Blocks away, a group of men gathered to defend a health-clinic-turned-shelter against all comers: The local government, which wants to dig another mass grave there, criminals loosed from the capital's broken penitentiary, and looters as hungry as they are.

The defenders said they don't want violence, but carried machetes, typical of this sugar-growing town, and clutched wooden poles.

"There is no one in the police station. We haven't seen aid," said Philip Pierre, 28, who manages a yogurt plant. "We are ready to die fighting if they don't listen to us."

Within Leogane, individual neighborhoods are on the lookout against each other. Leaders of each suspect the others might get violent but promise not to start trouble themselves.

Death has done brisk business here already, in a town where roaming Carnival bands were just getting in gear when the quake hit Tuesday.

The stench emanating from rubble is intense, and among the residents' demands are the "big shovels" working in the capital to excavate bodies.

U.N. peacekeepers from Sri Lanka delivered water to about 1,000 people, one of their officers said, and expected food in later yesterday. In the mountains that ring the town, cisterns broke, leaving many without drinking water. There is some food in the markets, but the price of a 50-pound bag of rice has risen about 25 percent to $27.50 since the quake.

A team from Missouri-based Crisis Response International roamed the downtown area, looking for any non-governmental organization to give supplies to. None was apparent.

And as the daze wears off from the shock wave that hit the town, older frustrations and the ordinary complications of Haitian life are creeping back in.

"If the international community gives the government money, we're going to take to the streets," 51-year-old Maximillian Alfred said. "They won't do anything with it for the community."