Haiti raises earthquake death toll to over 2,200 as families mourn the dead

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Men hand out supplies to a crowd of earthquake victims during the distribution of food and water at the “4 Chemins” crossroads in Les Cayes, Haiti, August 20, 2021. – Five days after a powerful earthquake killed nearly 2,200 people in Haiti, aid was arriving but officials were eager to not repeat the mistakes that followed a 2010 quake that devastated the Caribbean nation.
With almost 53,000 homes completely destroyed and more than 77,000 others damaged in Saturday’s tremor, authorities have a massive group of people that will need extensive recovery help. (Photo by Reginald LOUISSAINT JR / AFP) (Photo by REGINALD LOUISSAINT JR/AFP via Getty Images)

MARCELINE, Haiti, Aug 22 (NewsNation Now) — Families gathered in villages in southwestern Haiti this weekend to hold church and funeral services a week after an earthquake battered the region, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of buildings.

Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said Sunday that the toll from this month’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake has grown to 2,207, with 344 people still missing. The agency said via Twitter that 12,268 people were injured and nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed by the Aug.- 14 quake.

The collapse of churches in some of the worst-affected towns and villages of the impoverished Caribbean nation left residents to grieve in open fields.

At the Paroisse Saint-Joseph De Simon Roman Catholic Church on the outskirts of Les Cayes, the southwestern city that bore the brunt of the quake, about 200 worshippers gathered early for the first Sunday mass since the disaster.

“Everyone was crying today for what they had lost,” said the priest, Marc Orel Saël. “And everyone is stressed because the earth is still shaking,” he added, referring to near daily aftershocks that have rattled nerves all week.

The quake struck Haiti amid a period of extreme political upheaval following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last month. Allegations set out in a report by a local human rights group stirred fresh ferment at the weekend.

The report into Moise’s killing by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) alleged that new Prime Minister Ariel Henry had spoken on the night of the assassination by telephone to one of the main suspects, Joseph Felix Badio.

Jean-Junior Joseph, a close aide to Henry, wrote on Twitter on Saturday afternoon that the Prime Minister had told him he had “never spoken” to Badio, a former Haitian official.

In the village of Marceline, dozens of mourners dressed in elegant black or white suits gathered in front of a decimated Roman Catholic school to hold a funeral service for four members of the same family who died in the magnitude 7.2 quake.

Men and women wept on Saturday over the four white coffins: three small ones for the children and one larger one for the family’s matriarch, 90-year-old Marie Rose Morin.

“I’m distraught looking at these coffins,” said Edouard Morin, her son.

Edouard was also burying his daughter, Kelly, 15, his niece Wood-Langie, 10, and his nephew, Carl-Handy, 4.

“I would feel better if I were being buried in the same grave as my mother,” he said.

The four-way funeral cost $1,750, a huge sum for farmers in rural parts of a nation where per capita gross domestic product is less than $1,200, according to World Bank data.

Franck Morin, Wood-Langie’s father, recalled how he had left for work as a driver only minutes before the ground began to shake. He rushed back, only to find his wife bleeding from her legs and sobbing in front of the heap that was once their home.

The two of them dug through the rubble for two days until they found their daughter’s body.

“She was loved by the whole community, she was always dancing in church,” said Morin.

Outside another Catholic Church overlooking the main park in Les Cayes, dozens of worshipers gathered for Sunday mass in the yard adjacent to the damaged cathedral.

“Let’s go fulfill the work of the Lord,” the priest intoned solemnly as he closed out the ceremony.

Recovery efforts have been impeded by flooding and damage to access roads, feeding tensions in some of the hardest-hit areas.

Exasperation over delays in assistance began to boil over in recent days, with residents looting aid trucks in several towns across the south, stirring concerns about security.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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