Haiti's capital 'like a war zone' says churches global agency

By Stephen Brown
16 Jan 2010

Haiti's capital "looks like a war zone", and one million people are without shelter following the devastating earthquake that shook the Caribbean nation, the ACT Alliance global network of churches and related agencies has warned.

The 7.0 magnitude quake that struck on 12 January 2010, brought down or made uninhabitable between 60 and 80 per cent of the houses in the capital of Port-au-Prince, the Geneva-based alliance said in a statement on its website.

"In a city that ACT Alliance members say looks like a war zone, hundreds of thousands are roaming the streets looking desperately for relatives and other loved ones," the grouping reported.

"Thousands of people in Port-au-Prince - injured, hungry and desperate - have spent days outdoor[s] in the demolished capital of Haiti without food or shelter," the alliance said in a separate 15 January report. "Desperate Haitians have blocked streets with corpses in anger. Food is stocking up at the airport, but has not yet been distributed."

The network had earlier said some of its members around the world were continuing to wait for news of colleagues missing following the quake, which has been described as the worst to hit the Caribbean nation in 200 years. Tens of thousands of Haitians are feared dead.

ACT Alliance described rescue and humanitarian operations as being complicated because the United Nations is "paralysed" following the collapse of its main building, which left more than 100 UN staff missing.

Members of ACT have reported that blocked streets continue to make assessment visits very difficult. Many houses in the slum area of Port-au-Prince have collapsed, while little heavy equipment can be found to free trapped survivors, remove rubble and clear streets. Even shovels are in short supply.

"So far no real help is in sight," said Eric Celiz, of the Caribbean/Haiti programme of the Department for World Service of the Lutheran World Federation, an ACT member, in a 15 January release from the Lutheran World Information news service.

Celiz said streets were crowded with people fleeing their homes for fear of aftershocks which continued to rattle the earth, or whose homes had been destroyed. The magnitude of the catastrophe has left a shocked feeling of helplessness. People linger stunned before mounds of rubble with no genuine means of helping. Others remain buried under the rubble and cry out for help but the necessary equipment is lacking.

"It is an enormous moral dilemma for everyone, including our staff," Celiz said.

On 15 January, staff of the ACT Alliance joined in prayers with staff of the World Council of Churches (WCC)and other international church groups based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, where they were joined by members of the city's Haitian community.

The General Secretary of the WCC, the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, had earlier appealed for solidarity with the people of Haiti. "Once again they have experienced the great burdens of anguish, damage, and death because of a natural catastrophe," he said.

Communications with Port-au-Prince have been unreliable, with Skype and other internet-based communications providing the only news from Haiti, ACT reported.

The Lutheran World Federation announced it was using the Twitter internet messaging service to share information about the response to the disaster.

Tweets - short messages posted by internet or by using mobile phones - that include a special tag #lwf-haiti are being collected at the web page: www.lutheranworld.org/Haiti_Quake.html

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) has sent the words of a specially written hymn, "In Haiti, there is anguish", to its members, and suggested it be sung at Sunday services that would also include prayers for the people of Haiti.

"Haiti has been through so much, and our hearts bleed to see them go through yet another major crisis with such a heavy loss of life and so much destruction," WARC General Secretary, the Rev Setri Nyomi said in a message accompanying the hymn, written by the Rev Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

* ACT Alliance Haiti response: www.act-intl.org/alerts.php?uid=113

* Hymn, "In Haiti, there is anguish": http://warc.jalb.de/warcajsp/side.jsp?news_id=2085?_id=19&navi=8

* LWF Haiti Twitter messages: www.lutheranworld.org/Haiti_Quake.html

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