Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fight to save little girl ends in more tears

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Trapped beneath the crumbled remains of her home, the nine-year-old girl could be heard begging for rescue as neighbours clawed at sand and debris with their bare hands.

It had been two days since the earthquake collapsed the cinderblock home, trapping Haryssa Keem Clerge inside the basement. Friends and neighbours braved aftershocks to climb over the rubble, one of hundreds of toppled structures teetering on the side of a ravine.

In a city full of people desperately waiting for more help than neighbours can muster, it never came for Haryssa.

Just hours after her screams renewed rescuers' hopes Thursday, the child's lifeless body was finally pulled from the mass of concrete and twisted metal. Wrapped in a green bath towel, it was placed inside a loose desk drawer. With nowhere to take it, the body was then left on the hood of a battered Isuzu Trooper.

"There are no police, no anybody," said the child's despairing godmother, Kettely Clerge. Neighbours had to hold her back as she walked toward the building's winding, partially collapsed stairway, wailing: "I want to see her!"

A day earlier, the little girl's mother, Lauranie Jean, was pulled from the rubble of the same house. She lay moaning inside a tent Thursday as volunteers rubbed ointment into open wounds on her sides.

The family has now taken refuge in a dirt playground -- one of hundreds of open spaces across Port-au-Prince that people are filling each night to try to avoid the risk of aftershocks.

Haitians living in the capital's growing tent cities say they do not expect help anytime soon.

"People are waiting for someone to take care of them," said Michel Reau, 27, who brought his wife and infant child to the park after their home collapsed. "We are out of food. We are out of water."

A neighbour, Bellefleur Jean Heber, said Kettely Clerge had doted on little Haryssa, a bright and lively child whom she raised as though she were her own daughter.

Each day, she walked the girl to school in their Petionville neighbourhood, where Haryssa was known as a dedicated student.

As word spread Thursday the child was still alive, more than a dozen people raced to help.

Inside the cramped basement, Haryssa was discovered trapped by a partially collapsed roof. Rescuers got close enough to pass her water but they could not get food to her before she died.

Heber said nobody expected help from authorities.

"Haiti is an abandoned country," he said. "People are relying on themselves."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2010 A4

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