Fear remains for Haitians

Bifley Masse Marseille, 13, a resident of the Morne Hopital area in Haiti, stands outside the damaged home of a neighbor Sunday.
Bifley Masse Marseille, 13, a resident of the Morne Hopital area in Haiti, stands outside the damaged home of a neighbor Sunday. Tim Martin / The Day Buy Photo

Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Saintana St.Vil, or Mrs. William Joseph, moved into her house in the mountain town of Morne Hopital on April 24, 2000. A ragged chunk of slate on the ground at the entrance to her two-room concrete hut says so.

After Jan. 12, 2010, she may never go back.

Like almost everyone else in and around Port-au-Prince, St. Vil refuses to sleep inside anymore. Even among Haitians whose houses survived the horror of the earthquake are among those who won't go back inside because they fear their homes will collapse on them.

St. Vil's walls are cracked in places, but the house overall looks more solid than many others nearby. Still, when asked when she'll return, St. Vil waves her hands emphatically and shakes her head.

"Non," she answers immediately, in French, then goes into a lengthy explanation that an interpreter translates as, "She has no idea when."

The reason, according to the interpreter, is that "the people say there is going to be a bigger earthquake."

All around the city, people sell goods on the sidewalk, try to make dents in two- and three-story rubble with sledgehammers, seek help for injuries and mourn their dead. The fear is always with them.

The full-time employees of the Norwich Mission House, located in neighboring Petion-ville, have all been displaced from their homes. Through networking, they have been able to find a large, two-story house in Port-au-Prince whose owner does not use it full-time and who has agreed to let them stay there.

The displaced Mission House staff and their families arrived at the house at about the same time as the Americans from the Haitian Ministries of the Norwich Catholic diocese, which partners with locals in their aid work.

The Haitians are all sleeping outside in tents even though temperatures have been unusually cool. The Americans sleep inside. The Haitians spend much of their time in the back courtyard or in the carport; the Americans gather around the kitchen table or in other rooms.

The ministries team is here to offer immediate assistance, assess the damage to the Mission House, which was destroyed, and help their Haitian partners start on a plan to rebuild. The group on this trip includes Executive Director Emily Smack, project manager Kyn Tolson, and a member of the medical team, pediatrician Tom Gorin.

On Sunday the team made several visits, including one to the St. Jude Parish in Morne Hopital. There they attended morning Mass and checked in with the Rev. Jean Edner Brene. The church is damaged and unsafe, so the Mass took place outside.

Father Brene lost his brother in the earthquake and hasn't found his body.

The neighborhood around the church, St. Vil's neighborhood, is reminiscent of a campsite on a hill, one- and two-room concrete shacks on a dirt path in the woods.

Eleven-year-old Joseph Kevins wandered the neighborhood along with small groups of other children. He wore a faded red T-shirt that said "Alabama Crimson Tide." When asked whether he knew what Alabama was, Joseph answered no.

He was walking down the winding, dirt mountain road with his grandmother when the earthquake hit. Joseph fell down and his grandmother hung onto a tree.

Joseph had never heard of an earthquake before he experienced one.

Near the damaged church, an old woman sat under a tree with a basket of cookies, crackers, popcorn and other novelties. She gestured to the basket and said this is all she owns in the world.

Gedilia Synolial goes back-and-forth from Port-au-Prince to Morne Hopital each day. She was in the city when the earthquake hit, Synolial said, and started to run, injuring her ankle. Synolial had the ankle wrapped in a blue kerchief on Sunday.

"She's very depressed," said an interpreter, Dominique Georges, the project assistant for the Mission House. "Everybody sleeps in the street."

"They rely on God," Synolial says when asked what the Haitians will do now. "They all rely on God. They don't know what's going to happen."

It is unlikely the old woman will ask for help. At food distribution sites, she stands to the side, she said, because she is shy and is grateful for whatever anyone gives her. But she doesn't ask.

"If you deserve something, you don't have to ask for it," Synolial says.

Georges explains that the saying is a Haitian proverb.

Afterward, the ministries team visits Sister Marie Yannick of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (France) and delivers medicine. The church there appears solid, though the ceilings of some rooms fell during the earthquake.

Gorin will arrange for a structural engineer to take a look at the building, and as the team walks toward their car, he remarks that they will see what the engineer says.

Sister Yannick replies, "(Hopefully) they can tell us there won't be another one."

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