Haiti police commit more units to protecting earthquake aid

A private security guard keeps order as motorcyclists wait to fill up their gas tanks in Les Cayes, Haiti, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, a week after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

LES CAYES, Haiti — Haiti’s National Police announced Monday that it had deployed additional units south of the capital to protect aid shipments being taken to the country’s earthquake-damaged southwestern peninsula.

The announcement came one day after a powerful gang leader in that area said in a social media video that his allied gangs would assist in the aid effort.

Gang activity, including the hijacking of aid trucks, has forced most of the early aid to be ferried via planes and helicopters, slowing relief efforts.

Police spokeswoman Marie-Michelle Verrier said the police commander-in-chief had decided “to strengthen security in the Great South,” as the region is known.

“Several support units were deployed there on the roads and at the city level,” Verrier said. “The presence of the police will promote the deployment of aid convoys, but also the protection of disaster victims and better distribution of relief kits by state authorities and representatives of the international community.”

On Sunday, gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, alias “Barbecue,” offered a truce and promised help for communities in southwestern Haiti that were shattered by the 7.2-magnitude Aug. 14 earthquake.

It remained to be seen whether anything would come from Cherizier’s offer. He does not control all of the area’s gangs.

The earthquake killed at least 2,207 people, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency. It also says 12,268 people were injured and nearly 53,000 houses destroyed.

In a video posted on Facebook, Cherizier addressed the hardest-hit parts of the Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, saying: “We want to tell them that the G9 Revolutionary Forces and allies, all for one and one for all, sympathize with their pain and sorrows.”

“The G9 Revolutionary Forces and allies … will participate in the relief by bringing them help. We invite all compatriots to show solidarity with the victims by trying to share what little there is with them,” he said.

The police spokeswoman said the U.S. Embassy facilitated an aerial assessment of some of the most remote hard-hit areas.

“These areas are severely affected, but have not yet received the attention of the authorities concerned because of their isolation,” Verrier said. “This is the case of Latibolière, where the state is absent. Everything is taken care of by the church and the population. In these areas, schools, shops, vocational schools, including a school in Coteaux, were destroyed. The commander-in-chief wants to give them sustained attention.”

In one remote area, Haitian authorities rescued 24 agricultural workers who had been trapped in a mountaintop forest since the quake caused a landslide, Berla Severin, an official with the Civil Protection Agency, said Monday.

They had left to work there early the morning of the tremor and had not returned. By word of mouth, authorities eventually heard they were missing and mounted a search operation, Severin said.

They were found in the forest on Pic Macaya and flown by helicopter to a hospital.