Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Aftershock Provokes More Panic, Looting In Haiti

One of the most powerful aftershocks since last week's devastating earthquake jolted Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, prompting shaken residents to rush into the streets in fear and more desperate scavenging of the city.

After waiting for more than a week for relief deliveries that still haven't reached many in the capital, hundreds of desperate Haitians scoured stores in the main commercial district searching for food and items they could sell.

A crowd of about 200 people swarmed around the remains of a downtown supermarket. Young men scrambled up slabs of concrete and climbed over debris and razor wire to get to a hole in the store's ceiling. They scrambled back down with boxes of Pringles, soap and Presidente beer among other items.

One man defended his loot from the mob on the street with a champagne bottle, while another wielded a stick studded with nails.

A young girl about 9 years old emerged with a bag overflowing with toothpaste, plastic dolls and other goods. People in the crowd ripped it away, leaving her empty-handed and in tears.

The only lull in the frenzy came when a Haitian police vehicle drove by and officers fired several warning shots into the air. The police then moved on and the looting continued.

"It's dangerous in there. People stabbing, hitting each other with sticks," said David Martine, who was standing off to the side of the crowd munching from a can potato chips he had just picked up inside.

Martine said he hustled into the store to try to get something to eat, but he would not go back in because of the complete chaos inside the collapsed supermarket.

Scenes like this flared in various parts of the city's downtown commercial district, where many buildings have collapsed entirely and almost all the ones still standing are cracked and crumbling.

Around the corner from the supermarket, Gentile Jean Guillet held a new pair of white sneakers that he had just liberated from a toppled shoe store.

"You know it's misery, it's hunger, and nobody's giving us anything," he said. "Our houses are broken down. So people are just going in there to get what they can so they can eat."

He said he planned to sell the athletic shoes to buy food.

Next to the ruins of the city's historic Iron Market, a bazaar for food and goods, Stanley Dura and his brother passed out shotgun shells to the local security guards. Dura owns a cosmetics shop.

"We got to give them shells. They don't even got shells. They don't even have bullets," Dura said.

Dura, armed with a Glock 9 mm pistol and plenty of ammunition, unloaded the contents of his store into a truck while he still could.

"There's a lot of robbers. So we are trying to get our merchandise out. Thank God our store is not crashed down so we can get our merchandise out," he said.

Dura says he expects this entire section of downtown Port-au-Prince will have to be bulldozed.

"They're going to have to flatten everything down because it's not safe anymore," he said. "Everything is cracked. So they're going to have to flatten everything."

He doesn't know when the commercial district will be demolished and cleared but he said the rebuilding of the Haitian capital could take years.

For now, people are doing whatever they can to survive. Even the building debris is being carted off -- residents use it to block off sections of roadway on which to sleep.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.