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Haitians return to quake-damaged churches, gangs offer aid

Earthquake victims reach for water being handed out during a food distribution in the Picot neighborhood in Les Cayes, Haiti, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, eight days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) – A Haitian gang leader on Sunday (Aug. 22) offered a truce and help for communities shattered by a devastating earthquake – potentially offering a break for a relief effort that has been plagued by hijacked aid trucks and disorder.

The offer came as many Haitians resumed services in or outside damaged churches, sometimes for the first time since the magnitude 7.2 quake of Aug. 14. The country’s Civil Protection Agency also raised the toll of dead to 2,207.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much impact the truce offer might have: While powerful, Jimmy Cherizier, alias “Barbecue,” is far from the only gang leader in Haiti and widely repeated social media reports of an earlier gang truce failed to prevent attacks on the expanding relief effort.

Gangs have blocked roads, hijacked aid trucks and stolen supplies, forcing relief workers to transport supplies by helicopter. In places, desperate crowds have scuffled over bags of food.

Cherizier addressed a Facebook video on Sunday to 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.”

The increase in the death toll was the first since late Wednesday when the government put it at 2,189. Government officials said Sunday that 344 people were still missing, 12,268 people were injured and nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed by the quake.

In Les Cayes, many attended church to mourn those lost and give thanks for their own survival.

At an evangelical church in the Bergeaud neighborhood, parishioners sang hymns under beams of sunlight streaming through holes in the roof and walls.

Pastor Sevrain Marc Dix Jonas said Sunday’s service was special because it was the first time his church had been able to meet since the quake.

“Today was a must,” Dix Jonas said, standing below a gaping opening high in his church’s facade. “To thank God. He protected us. We did not die.”

His church was one of the few where congregants could worship inside. At many others, services were held in the street outside collapsed sanctuaries.

Taking that into account, the Roman Catholic church in Les Cayes moved its morning service to 6:30 a.m. to avoid the heat of day.

From The Associated Press. May not be republished.

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