Jasmine Pierre and 10 members of her family have been camped out in a park since Tuesday. She has not seen any food deliveries, rescue workers or noticed any signs of international relief.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Jasmine Pierre and 10 members of her family have been camped out in a park since Tuesday. She has not seen any food deliveries, rescue workers or noticed any signs of international relief.
“Nobody is coming,” she said. “I think only God is in charge. The government should be here, any government. There is no government in the palace right now. I don’t even really know if Haiti has a government today.”
The 22-year-old’s feelings of frustration were shared by many aid workers, relief agencies and medics, who say that three days after an earthquake devastated Haiti, it was not clear who was in charge of relief efforts.
Nobody had seen any.
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It’s no wonder: The presidential palace collapsed, as did the parliament, the U.N. headquarters, and the health and finance ministries.
No single federal government office building is standing, and officials are looking for a proper headquarters from which to organize relief operations, first lady Elizabeth Préval said.
Some Haitian leaders died. Others lost family or property, leaving a grief-stricken leadership awaiting an international community that was mobilizing to fill the void.
“The government seems to be just waiting for help,” said Gregory Gue, a Jacmel doctor who came to Port-au-Prince to volunteer for the Red Cross and was aghast at the conditions he encountered.
“People die waiting for help. I am angry. Angry, but everyone is also very sad. It is clear the government had no emergency plan.”
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, however, defended the pace of progress. “The international community reacted quite quickly in view of the circumstances and the scale of the hit,” he said.
“Everyone is still today in the streets — and that includes the government. Because three-quarters of the government buildings are destroyed, that doesn’t mean the government isn’t doing its work.”
Moreover, starting a day after the quake, Bellerive said, the remnants of the government held morning coordination meetings with U.N. representatives, foreign ambassadors and international agencies.
There is the bigger question lurking in the background: What will it take to rebuild this rattled country once the immediate crisis has passed, and is the government up to the task?
At the nondescript police building near the airport that has been converted into President Réne Préval’s de facto headquarters, the disarray was clear. Luxury SUV’s were parked at the entrance, which was guarded by members of an elite police unit that seemed, with a glance and a shrug, to let anyone with a heartbeat inside.
As Haitian officials cope with their own devastating losses — the finance minister’s son died — aid workers said it appears nobody in the Haitian government or the international community has stepped in to take charge.
Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé acknowledged the breakdown, saying that traditionally the U.N. Stabilization Force coordinated relief efforts.
“There is no leader emerging from anywhere,” said longtime aid worker Regine Alexandre.
“You have that sense of statelessness. Maybe people are too weak to give a strong sense of direction.”