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Quarters Are Tight But Safe for Haitian Earthquake Survivors
By
Paul McMullen
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, May 15, 2010
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ST. MARC, Haiti—It's becoming a little less crowded for Riclaine Lescailles and her seven children in the rambling house where they have been staying for several weeks since fleeing the devastation and confusion in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince days after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Seventeen families—totaling nearly 100 people—still lived in the large dwelling at 118 Pivert in St. Marc, 50 miles north of the capital at the end of April. Privacy and quietness is at a premium.

When Lescailles and her children moved into the dwelling in March, there were 160 people crammed into the rooms. Women stay on the ground floor, men on the second.

As difficult as the situation is, Lescailles knows life would be far worse if she had stayed in Port-au-Prince. Large sections of the capital remain under rubble. More than 1 million people still are homeless. Life in the tent camps is unhealthy and dangerous.

The building that Lescailles and her children now call home is a mile north of St. Marc Cathedral, where Father Alcide Vercelat secures donations to pass on to hundreds of displaced residents. Deacon Rodrigue Mortel, director of the Missions Office for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a major benefactor of his hometown cathedral, and, by extension, earthquake refugees such as Lescailles.

Deacon Mortel translated for Lescailles as she spoke in Creole April 8 about her experiences since the destructive magnitude 7 earthquake while holding the youngest member of her clan, Jean Samuel Fleury.

"She was in the front of the house, hanging clothes, some of the children were at school," Deacon Mortel told The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese. "They had a small house, a taller house collapsed on it. She spent seven days in the street, with her kids. She left and found a center where people were going to St. Marc.

"They were first housed in a school (in St. Marc) until it reopened. She'll have to move again."

Lescailles holds out hope that life will improve at some point.

"She said that she's lost everything," Deacon Mortel translated, "but God will provide. She doesn't know what she's going to do, but her husband (Jean Smith) has a job and some of her children are in school."

Of the hundreds of thousands displaced by the earthquake, one in three found their way to St. Marc and other towns in the state of Artibonite, in the Diocese of Gonaives, the focus of Baltimore's Missions Office.

Discouraged by communal living arrangements and a lack of work, however, many have returned to Port-au-Prince, where they can scavenge and perhaps find a single-family unit in one of the hundreds of tent cities built by assorted international relief agencies.

The capital continues to struggle with recovery efforts as the rainy season peaks in May. Some of the most vulnerable residents of the nearly 900 makeshift tent camps around the city are being relocated to safer grounds located about 12 miles north of town.

More of the dead are also being recovered as work crews use heavy equipment to carry away the remnants of destroyed buildings. Haitian officials now say 300,000 people died in the disaster.

As residents of 118 Pivert cooked over an open fire in the courtyard or cleaned, Father Vercelat opened his wallet and distributed 25 gourdes (about 60 cents) to adults. It was their family per diem.

In May, Father Vercelat continued to look for solutions.

"What I hope to do," he wrote in an e-mail, "is to give a little money to each family so that they can get organized and find some economic fulfillment. Because right now, fewer and fewer people think about Haiti."


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