Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 21, 2010
Hundreds of Haitians rushed Thursday to make deposits and withdraw cash as a main bank re-opened almost nine days after a massive earthquake left the capital city in ruins.
Under extremely tight security, including individual screenings of customers and their documents, and a shut down of the surrounding street, patrons of the Central Bank of Haiti (BRH) stood in single file to await a visit to a teller.
Because the main BRH offices were damaged in the quake, the bank was forced to open for business at the nearby offices of a construction company.
"These are temporary counters, which can offer a limited number of operations, such as depositing checks and money, or taking out money, but cannot carry out more complicated transactions like (currency) exchanges," the bank's security chief Yves-Willy Riviere told AFP.
Renee Lafortune, a nurse, came to the temporary bank along with hundreds of other hospital employees, and said she simply could not wait.
"I don't have any more cash, and I can't borrow money from my friends because they are in the same situation," she said.
Haiti's devastating January 12 earthquake has sent prices soaring as the population competed for basic supplies amid general shortages and an influx of foreigners with dollars.
Traders have been making huge profits selling water, oil and phone cards.
A 250 milliliter bag of water that once cost a gourde, now costs three. The soda that cost 10 gourde, now costs 20.
Phone cards, despite having the price labeled on them, also cost double, so too do cigarettes and alcohol. Especially for luxuries like a single cooked meal, prices in the capital of the poorest country in the region are now comparable to those in Madrid or Rome.
One bank customer, truck driver Fenelon Rolso, pledged to take all the money he could get from the wad of checks in his hand, "to get as far away from here" as quickly as possible.
Rolso said he feared the whole city might soon be evacuated due to the rising risk of diseases in the squalid, open air refugee camps where most inhabitants are now forced to live.
There are other small signs of normal life slowly returning on the streets of the capital.
"Going back to work is the only thing I can do to help my family," said young Danache Metelus bas he snipped at a man's hair at the imposing Champs-du-Mars square, where thousands are squatting in the open.
And amid the chaos, Colin Shiller, the logistics chief of Haiti Telecoms, waited in front of his company's devastated headquarters.
"I'm waiting for an engineer to see how we can clear all this. I don't know how long it will take," said Shiller, dressed in a striped shirt.
Meanwhile, another aftershock measuring 4.8 shook the city Thursday, interrupting a government meeting, although there were no immediate reports of damage.
Two French military officers, engineering specialists, were also inspecting a nearby bank building, the facade of which was mostly made from glass.
"From the outside, the building seems sound, but we must check inside to see if the structure can withstand further shocks," said one of the officers, who asked not to be named.
"We will then advise the bank chief of our decision."
earlier related report
"Going back to work is the only thing I can do to help my family," says young Danache Metelus between snips at a man's hair at the imposing Champs-du-Mars square, where thousands of survivors have taken refuge.
He returned to work on Thursday morning, at exactly the same spot he was when the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the capital on January 12, leaving at least 75,000 people dead and one million homeless.
Around 100 metres (yards) away from him, dozens of Haitians are pillaging the Topolino mini-market through a hole in the rubble, fighting each other with sticks over a litre of cleaning fluid or a tablecloth.
The police arrive, firing pump-action shotguns in the air, and the looters flee.
One is arrested, a policeman orders him to empty his pockets and then thrashes his buttocks four times with a baton -- much to the amusement of his friends.
In the next street, another Haitian police team fires in the air to disperse yet more looters. One of the thieves lies wounded on the ground, still breathing, and residents say he was hit by a police bullet.
Amid the chaos, Colin Shiller, the logistics chief of Haiti Telecoms, waits in front of his company's devastated headquarters.
"I'm waiting for an engineer to see how we can clear all this. I don't know how long it will take," says Shiller, dressed in a striped shirt.
It is the third time he has been here since the earthquake, he adds, and he sees signs that people are at least beginning to rebuild their shattered lives.
"The situation has improved overall. The mentality is improving," he says.
In front of him a lorry escorted by police has come to recover goods from the "Super Home" electrical shop, one of the rare buildings in Port-au-Prince that is still upright.
Further off a man leaves a pile of rubble with a carton containing a red toy car. Next to him, a dozen boys are wearing brand new sunglasses -- one of them still has the label hanging from the nose.
To ward off criminals several men armed with sticks and iron bars stand guard outside an ice cream shop. Inside, in front of around 40 refrigerators powered by a generator, a line of Haitians queues up to buy a cone.
"We started selling ice creams again two days after the disaster. People living outdoors have been buying loads. We would have sold more today but we had to stop because we had no electricity," says the cashier, Chale Delence.
Along the entrances to the Champs-de-Mars, which dozens of street sweepers from the Haitian company SMCRS have been cleaning for the last three days, street vendors have also reappeared.
They sell coconuts from wheelbarrows, new audio headphones and black market medicines.
"Every day that passes is a victory," reflects Colin Shiller, the telecoms company executive. "Haiti is coming back to life."
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Bulldozers churn up tonnes of earth dotted with human remains from beneath a flattened supermarket in Haiti's quake-hit capital, and people fearlessly plunge in behind hoping to snatch food or something of value to sell. A week after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake flattened much of Port-au-Prince, looting has become a survival strategy. And tensions between local police and many people des ... read more
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