“When dawn broke I heard singing all over city. It’s as if the people are comforting each other by coming together like this. The churches themselves have collapsed but they are coming together in the open air and singing.”
Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s reporter Hans Jaap Melissen is in Port-au-Prince, the devastated capital of Haiti.
Listen to a Newsline interview with Hans Jaap Melissen:
He says people are seeking solace in the midst of the chaos following the devastating earthquake that has destroyed large swathes of Haiti’s infrastructure.
The Pan American Health Organization said on Friday the death toll may be as high as 50,000 to 100,000 people - but up to three million are said to be affected, either injured or homeless.
“There are lots of bodies along the side of the road", Hans Jaap Melissen describes. "They are covered with sheets and people are walking along and lifting the sheets to see if it is someone from their family.”
Looking for relatives
"It's a strange mixture of people going through the rubble, looking for a lost relative, and other people who are walking around trying to sell stuff. All shops are closed, but street vendors are there as if it's any other day in Haiti".
Rescue efforts hampered
International aid was beginning to trickle into Haiti on Friday but the Port au Prince airport is too small to accomodate all incoming flights. A Dutch aircraft carrying medical supplies was stranded on the Curacao airport on Thursday.
Eventually, it left for Haiti on Friday afternoon where it arrived early in the evening. The Dutch cabinet has pledged another one million euros to Haiti, but that figure is expected to rise. The Dutch are also considering sending a navy vessel to Haiti to bring new supplies.
"Everything will be always too late in situations like this", Hans Jaap notes. "So far, I've only seen one UN crane going through the rubble of a few collapsed UN buildings. But there's so much damage, that any help won't be enough".
Rioting and looting
Earlier on Friday, there had been reports of rioting and looting in Haiti. "You could call this a Haitian habit", Hans Jaap Melissen says with a hint of sarcasm. "Some people take advantage of this situation. But on the other hand, there are many people who share their pain and help each other. That's the other side of the story".
Watch a video made by Dutch aid worker Robert de Vries. You may find some of the images shocking. Story continues below.
Hospitals - if they survived the earthquake - have been overwhelmed by the injured coming in. "What you now see is that people have built improvised hospitals in parks and on the streets. But more medical aid is specifically needed here", says Hans Jaap.
The Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs is worried about the fate of nine Dutch people in Haiti. The ministry says it seems that they were in one of the hotels that collapsed during the quake.
How to cope
A disaster of this magnitude would be extremely difficult to cope with for any country, but Haiti being one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean region will find it hard to survive, Hans Jaap notes. "They have had to cope with so many things in the past decades, from politcal unrest to hurricanes to food riots. They have a way of living with disasters around them. They may be surprised by the scale, but they're always able to continue".
What really helps, says Hans Jaap, is a structural improvement. "I've been here many times and I've seen that if you want a better Haiti, you need structural help. But that's hard to get. It would also mean a definite change in government and that's a huge challenge".