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It has been a year of turmoil in Haiti, even more so than usual for the country that has endured a series of natural disasters, economic unrest and political instability. The most recent, which occurred last week, seem to roll all three into one.
Armed gangs control key conduits of commerce in Haiti, including those transporting its gasoline supply. They’ve restricted distribution with terminal blockades, and tanker truck drivers have been kidnapped, according to news reports. Fuel shortages are commonplace.
A tanker truck had mechanical issues that caused it to stall on the night of Dec. 13 in Cap Haitien, the country’s second largest city. As its tanks started to leak, residents rushed to the site with siphons and empty gas cans to tap into the truck’s payload. The fuel ignited, instantly incinerating those on the street and damaging homes within a 100-yard radius, according to the New York Times.
“Once it exploded, it instantly incinerated the people that were in the vicinity of the of the fuel tanker, and then the subsequent fire actually killed people that were in the homes around the area,” Dr. Yvens Laborde said.
The New Orleans physician who leads Ochsner’s global medical education was preparing to return to Haiti just days after the explosion. He has led the health system’s efforts in his home country, providing medical and humanitarian aid to there.
Laborde spoke to WDSU just hours before boarding a flight to Port Au Prince early Saturday. He planned to bring two duffel bags full of medical supplies to the lone hospital still open in Cap Haitien. Electricity is spotty there as in much of the country, and medical facilities often depend on generators to provide vital services. Without gas, they are forced to close.
The explosion comes four months after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in Haiti’s souther Tiburon Peninsula. A month later, a team of assassins killed President Jovenel Moise.
Ochsner has well established ties to Haiti, forged through its teaching partnership with the University of Queensland in Australia. Fourth-year medical students have staffed a clinic in a rural area of the country under Laborde’s guidance.
Laborde emailed with an update on the situation late Monday. He had worked at the hospital in Cap Hatien that day and the night before.
“It is truly heroic how the hospital responded,” he wrote. “It is poorly funded public teaching hospital. The interns and residents were on the ground as first responders to manage an overwhelming situation in the first instants after the event usually referred to as the golden hour within the 60 minutes from the time of an injury or trauma. Their presence at the golden hour had a hugely positive impact on the response to the accident and the outcomes for the victims.”
Laborde described personal stories he has heard from the “unparalleled suffering” in a portion of the Cap Hatien that is already impoverished and marginalized. One couple lost seven children in the explosion.
“The loss of one child is unbearable but the lost of seven children at once is indescribable,” Laborde said.
The Ochsner Haiti Relief Fund has raised money to provide health care and humanitarian support, The fund was launched after a 2010 earthquake, which Hurricane Tomas followed and then a cholera outbreak. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused more than 1,000 deaths in Haiti.
To learn more about Ochsner’s efforts in Haiti and contribute to relief efforts, visit the Ochsner website for its Missions in Haiti.
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