Survivors in Haiti nursing home dying while awaiting aid

Monday, January 18, 2010 | 7:01 p.m. CST

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Earthquake survivors have brought food and some medicine to dying residents in the rubble of a Haiti nursing home, but large-scale foreign aid had yet to reach dozens there Monday.

Several elderly residents were nearing death, staff said. They gasped for air, motionless amid the mayhem of a makeshift tent city erected by survivors on the grounds of the nursing home in an impoverished downtown neighborhood.

"I simply don't understand what is taking the foreigners so long," said Raymond Saintfort , a pharmacist whose two suitcases of aspirin and antiseptics provided the only medicine available to the nursing home residents.

Some conditions had improved since Associated Press journalists first reported Sunday about the elderly people sleeping on dirt, starving as rats picked at their overflowing diapers. The nursing home's manager, Morancy Benjamin, said Port-au-Prince's town hall had promised to send aid, though it was not clear when it might arrive.

But other suffering Haitians have helped to sift through the partially collapsed dispensary to collect beds for the 84 surviving residents. Others have hung sheets from tree branches to provide them with shade, and several relatives and strangers have arrived to provide the tiny amounts of food they can spare.

Nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order, just about the only foreign aid group that has ventured so deep into the slums of Port-au-Prince, handed out emergency water rations Monday. It was the pensioners' first drinking water in 24 hours.

"It's very little but it's absolutely all we've got to give," said Dee Leahy, a lay missionary from St. Louis, who was working with the nuns.

Several of the pensioners begged for food from passers-by, and some street vendors handed them small packs of biscuits.

Six pensioners died in last Tuesday's quake and two others have since perished — they are barely a mile from the U.S.-controlled international airport where supplies are being flown.

"Things are a little better, but they're still so hungry," said Jesula Maurice , a private nurse whose brother is one of the pensioners and who'd come to offer help.

"I couldn't leave these people like this," she said, stitching the infected wound on the head of one 69-year-old woman, Marie-Ange Levee. She cried out — there were no painkillers to give her.

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