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Staggering Death Toll Continues to Climb in Haiti

January 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The people of Haiti confronted their ever-widening disaster today in the wake of Tuesday’s killer earthquake. Estimates of the dead more than doubled in 24 hours, and survivors appealed for relief.

We begin with two reports from Independent Television News on the scene in Port-au-Prince.

First, Sarah Smith.

A warning: Some of the scenes may be disturbing.

SARAH SMITH: Waiting outside the main hospital, injured people can only hope for treatment. Everyone here has suffered some kind of ordeal, especially Roberta Rossi.

After three terrifying days and nights trapped under a wall in her own home, Roberta was finally dragged out of there today. She says she had been screaming for help, but no one could hear her. Only when a bulldozer arrived this morning did they spot her pushing a stick up through the wreckage. Neighbors dug her out, shocked, but relatively unhurt.

Like so many others, though, she now has nowhere to go. It seems as though most of the people who live in Port-au-Prince are now forced to live out on the street. In just about every public space and even patches of waste ground, these makeshift shelters have appeared, and people are surviving on only what they could grab from their collapsing homes. So, food, water, all kinds of supplies are running out quickly. And if they don’t get some help soon, the mood could change.

People have to carry what they can, because the hillsides that were covered with homes where the very poorest people live have almost entirely collapsed. Every building here now is almost totally unsafe, and that leaves thousands upon thousands of people homeless. The U.N. are considering making the football stadium a field hospital, and they will find they already have plenty of patients waiting.

And what do people here need most, the people who are here now?

WOMAN: They need a hospital. They need a doctor. And they lost everything. They lost everything. Me, I lost everything. I lost my house. I lost everything.

SARAH SMITH: Left lying in the middle of the pitch, Nana has a broken leg, bandaged up with cardboard. Her parents have left her here while they try to find some food. A small bottle of cherry juice is all she has, and she desperately needs a doctor.

Broken limbs, legs especially, are common, and the injured are, of course, then stranded. This girl told me she was carried here by some neighbors after the hospital turned her away, despite the fact both her legs are clearly broken. None of her own family survived the earthquake to help her now look after her baby.

It’s obvious that, without treatment, soon, the injured will start to die.

WOMAN: Do something for me, please. I’m bad. I’m bad. I’m so bad. Please, do something for me. Do something quick, quick, quick.

SARAH SMITH: The streets are now full of smoke. Branches and leaves are being burnt to cover the pervasive stench of rotting corpses. And tempers are rising. These people are fighting over what to do with the body of their preacher.

Burn it, insist some of them. Bury him, say the others, who eventually win their argument and take the corpse away. But it’s not to a dignified funeral. The preacher’s body is simply put in a pit, on top of at least 20 other departed souls.

Day and night, the bodies are piling up. It’s deeply disturbing to look at, and it’s dangerous as well. So, just about any vehicle that can be found is being used to take them away. The morgue, though, is overwhelmed. It now has well over 1,000 bodies piled up outside.

One family paid for a corpse to be removed, but there’s no attempt to try and identify any of the others. The U.N. arrived, but with orders to count the bodies, not to remove them. The true numbers of how many people died here will take a long time to assess. What to do with the dead and how to help those left alive are now the urgent questions.