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Haiti Banks Open, But Tempers Flare

Customers line up outside a Port-au-Prince bank to withdraw money, 24 Jan 2010
Customers line up outside a Port-au-Prince bank to withdraw money, 24 Jan 2010

Banks opened in Haiti for the first time since the earthquake that killed an estimated 110,000 people almost two weeks ago. Bank officials were prepared for the large crowds on hand with extra security personnel. Officials say putting money in people's pockets is a critical first step to getting the country up and running again.

Tempers flared as people seeking cash lined up at banks across Port-au-Prince. Money is in short supply but getting Haiti's banking system up and running is critical to stabilizing the economy. Goods are available in the capital, but no one has money to buy them. George Mathelier says he has been surviving through the generosity of friends and neighbors.

"I don't have any money in my pocket. I don't have any money. I am asking folks to give me water, food. And hopefully today things will be open and get back to normal," he said.

Crowd control was a major concern as United Nations security personnel were on hand. We visited the Sogebank in the neighborhood of Croix de Missions outside the city center where most people waited patiently on line. Cash withdrawals were limited to 2,500 Haitian Gourds to ensure there is enough money on hand and to discourage a run on the banks.

Money sent from family members abroad has long been a staple of the Haitian economy. Edward Toleiman has had no contact with his family in the U.S. since the earthquake.

EDWARD: "I am going to check, maybe they sent some money for me through the Western Union, to take care of me safe,"

REPORTER: "So you don't know you just hope there is some money for you?"

EDWARD: "Maybe, just some money for me, cause this is what I am looking for. Because you have to send me some money."

Bank officials worry lack of Identification could be a problem for many customers. Many Haitians lost their documents in the earthquake. Bank employees have been relying on secret questions and quizzing customers on personal details.