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

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.

While doctors try to give vital surgery to patients in cracked rooms, thousands of injured are attended in the parking lot.

Willy and others lay on mattresses connected to IV drips in the blazing sun with temperatures topping 85 degrees.

Thirty feet away, through crowds of injured, the corpse of a woman who didn’t make it lays rotting in the open. One of the cadaver’s arms had been ripped off from the elbow, her legs twisted in the unnatural contortions of the dead.

Later, exhausted hospital workers drag the body round the corner to the parking lot of the morgue. With the morgue building too packed with corpses, more than 400 bodies lay on the small patch of open concrete, in a scene too nightmarish for words.

The total number that have perished in this catastrophe will almost certainly never be known. There are tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of victims.

The stench of death creeps through to the hospital car park, mixing with the smell of urine and garbage to make a vile odor that forces people to put T-shirts and handkerchiefs over their mouths.

The doctors say they have no diagnosis yet for Willy; no X-rays have yet been possible amid the multitude of needy arriving, many with even more critical conditions.

Daton said he brought his own medicines to ease her pain. Many of the drugs flooding in from abroad have been trickling very slowly to those on the street amid a chaos and lack of central leadership in the relief efforts.

Meanwhile, many of those who die in Haiti fall from basic secondary infections that could have been prevented if only they were attended to in time.

A few foreign aid workers arrived on Friday to start attending to the needy at the General Hospital. But with so many waiting for their help, Willy and her father Daton were left waiting.

A grey-haired muscular man in his 50s, Daton stands upright and looks straight ahead as he tells his story.

Asked how he can make sense of such tragedy being unleashed on his family and his nation, he frowns and waves his hands through the air in a crushing gesture. “This is a test from God,” he says, unblinking.

Willy rolls over on the mattress, showing her frail 9-year-old frame. Her eyes are too battered to open, her lips too hammered to speak. But she reaches out her arms toward the sound of her father’s voice. And the sturdy Daton takes her hand and calmly massages it, while more and more injured arrive and more wounded pass away.