Families struggle to find and bury dead loved ones


POSTED: Friday, January 15, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti » Some of the dead in this shattered city line the roads, carefully placed garments shrouding their faces. Others are carried into the hills for quick burials. Hundreds are arrayed in a macabre tangle of limbs outside a morgue, just feet from the grievously wounded.

The living and the dead share the same space—sidewalks, public plazas, hospitals. The living are frightened of being inside in case another earthquake hits; the dead are everywhere.

On the doorstep of a pharmacy, six bodies were lined up shoulder to shoulder. On the body of one woman, covered in a sheet, rested a small bundle, the tiny leg of an infant sticking out of the wrap.

“;It's beyond description. The disaster, the damage, is just so overwhelming,”; said Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Haiti. “;Everyone has a scarf or something because the smell is unbearable. ... You literally have bodies all over the place.”;





        The FBI and security experts warned yesterday of the likelihood of scams as requests for donations for Haitian relief start pouring in via e-mail, text message, telephone and Twitter.

More than 400 Internet addresses related to Haiti have been registered since Tuesday's devastating quake, Internet security expert Joel Esler said. Many will likely prove legitimate and redirect to proven charity sites, Esler said, but many more will be bogus, associated with Web sites that host malicious software or other hazardous content.


The best advice is to contribute only to organizations you are familiar with and not to respond to unsolicited e-mails. Other tips:


» Don't click on links or open attachments within aid-related spam. The attachments could be viruses.
        » Check out the organization at sites for the Better Business Bureau (, the Foundation Center ( or Charity Navigator (
        » Examine the Web address of a purported group. Avoid those that end in a series of numbers, and be aware that most nonprofits have sites that end with .org, not .com.
        » Be skeptical of Web sites that ask for detailed personal information, such as your Social Security number, birth date, bank account or PIN information.





        Hawaii donors may contribute to the relief effort through the Hawaii Red Cross. If the donation is specifically for the Haiti relief effort, please indicate so on the check or when you call.

» Call 739-8109 or visit
        » Mail donations to American Red Cross, Hawaii State Chapter, 4155 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu 96816.


The international Red Cross estimates up to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's earthquake. For now, few know what to do with the bodies. They are being left on roadsides and doorsteps so relatives can find them, or until families find transportation to burial sites.

Some families would not wait. Relatives of one woman killed in the quake dug her grave about 20 feet from the road, her body wrapped in a sheet and strapped to a door. Across the street, others dug graves and built a bonfire to ward off flies and the stench.

Health officials sought to dispel worries about the spread of disease. Pan American Health Organization officials—speaking from Washington—stressed dead bodies are not a significant contagion danger, and cautioned against rapid mass burials or cremations.

“;The management of dead bodies needs to be done with the highest regard to families, their wishes and their sensitivities,”; said Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, deputy director for the Pan American Health Organization.

The international Red Cross said it would ship 3,000 body bags along with tons of aid being sent from Geneva last night.

The silence of the dead is overwhelming in a city where uncounted bodies littered the streets in the 80-degree heat, and dust-caked arms and legs reached, frozen and lifeless, from the ruins. Outside the General Hospital morgue, hundreds of collected corpses blanketed the parking lot as the grief-stricken searched among them for loved ones. Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers, key to city security, were trying to organize mass burials.

A woman described the clothes of her daughter to city workers, who moved a sheet to look closely at a body. The smell of death was overpowering.

Nearby, the injured sit on makeshift beds, awaiting medical help. The living and the piles of dead are separated by only about 20 feet.

Heavy damage to at least eight Port-au-Prince hospitals severely hampered efforts to treat the many thousands of injured, the World Health Organization said in Geneva. At least 2,000 injured were reported to have been treated at hospitals next door in the Dominican Republic, including the president of the Haitian Senate, Kelly Bestien.

Across the sprawling, city, small groups by roadsides could be seen burying dead. Other dust-covered bodies were being dragged down streets, toward hospitals where relatives hoped to leave them. Countless remained unburied, stacked up, children's bodies atop mothers, tiny feet poking from blankets.

Small tragedies unfolded everywhere. In the Petionville suburb, friends held back Kettely Clerge—”;I want to see her,”; she sobbed—as neighbors with bare hands tried to dig out her 9-year-old goddaughter, Harryssa Keem Clerge, pleading for rescue, from the rubble of their home.

“;There's no police, there's nobody,”; the hopeless godmother cried. By day's end the girl was dead.

Late yesterday afternoon, sunset mingled with concrete dust from crumbled buildings, tingeing the city in a golden mist.

On a patch of dirt on a busy street corner, a woman took her last breath. She was 26. Her family said she had been injured in the quake and suffered for two days.

Her family and about two dozen passers-by crowded around. They said a prayer and gently wiped the corners of her mouth before closing her eyes and covering her with a blanket.

Her father sat at the woman's feet. Like the rest of those in the crowd, he did not cry. He sat, visibly drained, seemingly distant. When a journalist asked his daughter's name, he just shook his head.