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9-year-old illustrates Haiti’s suffering and hopes

Rescued from the rubble by her father, Willy is badly injured and her prognosis is uncertain. But she's holding on.

An injured girl is carried by her mother at a makeshift hospital on a street in Port-au-Prince, Jan. 15, 2010. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Tensions were on the rise among desperate Haitians awaiting international aid and hunting for missing relatives on Saturday as aid began to trickle in four days after an earthquake that Haitian authorities say killed as many as 200,000 people. Trucks piled with corpses have been carrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside the city, Reuters reports, but thousands of bodies are believed to still be buried under rubble.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Laying on a torn mattress in the hospital parking lot, the 9-year-old Haitian girl Willy tries to brush flies from her shattered face and bruised-shut eyes.

But her mother gently grabs Willy's arm to stop her hitting herself in the head and making the wounds even worse.

Willy’s lips are puffed up like balloons, her nose crooked like a zigzag, her eyelids red and swollen up to the size of golf balls. The top of her head is wrapped in a bandage, hiding deeper and perhaps fatal injuries to her skull.

The wounds were inflicted on Willy when her house collapsed in the catastrophic earthquake that so severely punished the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. As the walls came down Willy's cranium was trapped between the floor and the roof beam.

Her father, Floran Daton, dug through rubble for hours to pull her out and now sits beside her amid hundreds of wounded and dying, praying she will live.

She is his only surviving child. Willy's older brother and sister both perished in the quake, along with two of Daton's baby grandchildren. Daton tells me about these deaths in a hushed voice. “She doesn't know about them,” he whispers, indicating Willy on the mattress. “We don't want her to find out yet.”

When the Tuesday tremor wiped Daton’s home off the map, he first took Willy and his wife to shelter in a neighborhood church that had remained standing while grand office buildings, impervious hotels and even the presidential palace collapsed like houses of cards.

The following day, he fought his way through the devastated city to the government’s General Hospital, Haiti's premium medical facility, where he used to work as a porter.

But he found little sanctuary at the clinic. Since the earthquake had slayed many medical staff and their families, only 10 of 110 doctors and five of 400 nurses have been able to show up for work.

Meanwhile, the tremor sent cracks through the hospital itself, bringing down walls and breaking medical machinery.

“We do not have one service that is not damaged,” said administrative director Marlen Thompson, stopping for a second from her hectic work as more and more sick and wounded rolled up.