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Haitian City of Gonaives Struggles to Help Port-au-Prince Residents

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Hundreds of thousands of people fled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince after the city was devastated by an earthquake nearly one month ago.  At least 35,000 headed north to the town of Gonaives.  The newcomers have been welcomed, but the influx is taking a toll on the city, which is still recovering from destructive hurricanes.

Gonaives, a three-hour drive north of Port-au-Prince, is important in Haitian history.  It is the place where the nation declared its independence from France in 1804.

Although the city of 300,000 escaped the earthquake, it has faced repeated disasters.  In 2004 and 2008, thousands died in Gonaives when their homes were flooded during hurricanes.  The economy has not yet recovered.

Still, Gonaives Deputy Mayor Jean Francois Adolphe says that after the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Gonaives officials wanted to help, and went there to arrange an evacuation.

He says many people from Gonaives and surrounding areas who live in Port-au-Prince were brought out.  He holds up a chart that details the evacuation plan.

Many who were injured, including thousands with no ties to this area, also came for medical treatment, food and other help.  Most are staying with local families.  Others are hospitalized.

Adeclef Woodly, a doctor at the local hospital, is a Haitian who was trained in Cuba.  He says his hospital receives patients with the most serious injuries who need orthopedic care, patients who need amputations of arms or hands, or who have hip injuries with multiple fractures.

Nineteen-year-old patient Logista Floxene was brought here by family members from Port-au-Prince. She says she lost one leg and the other is broken.  It happened after concrete collapsed on her.

International aid groups, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.N. Development Program and World Food Program, are providing assistance.

But business owner Joseph Mathiado-Gustave says most of the help comes from local people.

He says we, the people of Gonaives, are the ones that are helping the people from other places with everything from food to health care until they can get back to their own towns.

Some people in Gonaives are able to earn an income.  A fisherman at the beach prepares a net to get ready for the day's catch.  Street vendors sell their wares across from city hall.  A cyber café is up and running, and several young men are surfing the web on laptop computers.  But others, like Klebert Celestin, are living hand to mouth and are out of work.

"I don't have no job right now.  I don't have no job," said Celestin.
 
Haitian Senator Youri Latortue, who represents this region, wants a plan to decentralize Haiti's government and business, and to move many people outside Port-au-Prince

"We can't rebuild on the same place," he said. "The government and the parliament and the civil society have to look for a new plan and ask the international community to build a new fund able to finance the new plan."

Thousands of earthquake victims still lie beneath the rubble in Port-au-Prince.  And Haitians are still burying their dead.  A funeral procession makes its way along the highway to Gonaives.  And as victims recover, they say they are looking for help in rebuilding their country. 

 

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