LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) – As if Haiti’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, tropical storm and coronavirus pandemic weren’t enough, the quake damaged the only medical oxygen facility in the southern part of the country.
The building that housed the oxygen concentrator machines on which the region depended partially collapsed and the machines were turned upside down. The Etheuss company is run by a family known for their vetiver perfume oils in the town of Les Cayes, one of the areas hardest hit by Saturday’s earthquake.
“We’re trying to get oxygen production going again. This is our responsibility because many people depend on it, ”said Kurtch Jeune, one of the brothers who run the plant, as he led reporters through the damaged, rubble-strewn plants on Thursday.
The quake left concrete pillars and roofs of the facility, and cement block rubble shattered the tanks, the electrical system and the delicate mesh of copper pipes that fill vital oxygen systems. “The oxygen generators are upside down,” said Jeune. “We got a promise from the civil engineering department to remove the rubble with excavators.”
Jeune said his factory was the only one supplying local hospitals, apart from two medical oxygen factories in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Jeune says oxygen demand rose 200% last month in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have the capacity to deliver 40 oxygen bottles a day,” said Jeune. “We supply several hospitals.”
According to official figures, at least 2,189 people were killed and 12,268 injured in the severe earthquake that struck Haiti’s southwestern peninsula. It is estimated that more than 300 people are still missing, said Serge Chery, head of civil defense in the southern province, which also includes the small port town of Les Cayes.
According to official estimates, more than 100,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, and around 30,000 families were left homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches were also torn down or badly damaged.
The earthquake was accompanied by a tropical storm that brought heavy rain and strong winds at the beginning of the week.
Private relief supplies and supplies from the U.S. government and other countries flowed faster into Haiti on Thursday, but ingrained poverty, insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure still posed major challenges to provide food and urgent medical care to all those in need.
Adding to the problems, a large hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where many of the injured were sent, was closed for two days from Thursday to protest the kidnapping of two doctors, including one of the country’s few orthopedic surgeons .
The kidnappings dealt a blow to attempts to control the criminal violence that has threatened disaster relief in the capital.
In addition, a group of 18 Colombian volunteer search and rescue workers under police protection had to be escorted out of the earthquake-hit town of Jeremie after a false rumor was spread that they were involved in the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The workers sought refuge in a civil defense office Wednesday night and police escorted them to the airport on Thursday.
Moise’s as yet unsolved murder is suspected to have been committed by a group of Colombian mercenaries. Despite what has happened to Colombian rescue workers, Haiti “welcomes everyone who comes to bring help,” said Jerry Chandler, head of the national civil protection agency.
The health facilities in the poorest country in the western hemisphere were already at a critical point due to the pandemic before the earthquake. The country of 11 million people has reported 20,556 cases and 576 deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Haiti received its first batch of US-donated coronavirus vaccines just last month through a United Nations program for low-income countries.
The rest of Jeune’s factory, which makes an essential oil used in fine perfumes, was also badly damaged.
The family business processes bales of beige, thread-like roots taken from the vetiver plant to produce more than half of the world’s vetiver oil.
Vetiver oil is also used in cosmetics, soaps, and aromatherapy. It has estimated annual sales of $ 12 million and employs between 15,000 and 60,000 farmers.
The damage to the factory threatens Haiti’s already dangerous rural economy, plagued by drought, soil erosion and tropical storms.
Haiti produces more than 70 tons of vetiver oil annually, surpassing Indonesia, China, India, Brazil and the neighboring Dominican Republic. With up to 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) harvested annually, it is one of the country’s most important exports. But more than 60% of the harvest still comes from individual producers, many of whom are in financial difficulties, said Gabriel Gelin, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program in Haiti.
Associate press journalist Regina Garcia Cano in Mexico City contributed to this report.