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Haiti Elderly Suffer With Help Just a Mile Away

by Alfred deMontesquiou

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - More than a week after their nursing home collapsed, dozens of elderly Haitians are still begging for food and medicine in a downtown Port-au-Prince slum barely a mile from the international airport where tons of aid are pouring in.

People beg for food and water outside a supermarket in Port-au-Prince, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. Troops, doctors and aid workers flowed into Haiti on Monday even while hundreds of thousands of Tuesday's quake victims struggled to find water or food. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) "It's as if everybody has forgotten us, nobody cares," said Phileas Julien, 78, a sometimes delirious blind man in a wheelchair who has appointed himself spokesman for the 84 surviving residents. "Or maybe they really do just want us to starve to death."

The Jan. 12 earthquake killed six residents and two more have since died of hunger and exhaustion. Several more were barely clinging to life Wednesday evening. They struggle to survive in the midst of a squalid camp that was created in the hospice's garden by people who fled the quake's destruction.

Life for the residents has improved a bit since Sunday, when some of their new neighbors pulled beds out of the home and into the open so the elderly didn't have to sleep on the ground with rats scampering by.

Some relatives and volunteers have made small food offerings and helped wash and medicate the worse-off patients. An Associated Press reporter has brought a case of bottles of water every day since discovering their plight Sunday.

On Monday, the Brazilian aid group Viva Rio brought in a large tanker of drinking water, the first large-scale aid for the 59 women and 25 men left from the nursing home.

John Lebrun, one of the nursing home's cleaners, also brought a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice that was cooked the same day.

"I found it in a storage house nearby," he said. He wouldn't elaborate on how he secured such a costly item: that much rice now costs $60 amid shortages. Lebrun grinned and said evasively that it came from a "broken" store _ one damaged in the quake.

The plain, boiled rice Monday was the pensioners' first meal since the earthquake. They have not eaten since.

"We're hungry, we're so, so hungry," lamented 77-year-old Felicie Colin, one of those who still had enough energy to speak intelligibly at sunset Wednesday.

Lebrun pointed at two pensioners who had been unconscious for days, tucked in a corner so their slow, silent departure wouldn't affect the others too much.

"My friends, they need medicine so badly," said nurse Jesula Maurice, shaking her head.

Maurice came to check on her ailing brother at the hospice and said she had worked around the clock for days stitching up wounds and cleaning cuts of all the quake victims she could help. A pharmacist gave her two suitcases of basic medicine, but the supplies quickly ran out.

"There's such a desperate need for antibiotics here," Maurice said.

She expressed anger at the seeming lack of outside interest in the residents of the nursing home, which is close to the areas around the collapsed presidential palace and Roman Catholic cathedral, which teem with journalists and international rescue teams.

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