Friday, January 15, 2010

Hotel Villa Creole Open for Business, Offers Refuge

By Andrew Cawthorne, Reuters

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Crumbled walls cover priceless works of Haitian art. There are dead bodies outside the entrance. Food will run short soon.

Following the devastating earthquake that wrecked Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, the once-elegant Hotel Villa Creole, set on a hillside with lush tropical vegetation, is still, astonishingly, open for business.

The establishment is operating a hospital in its front entrance and allowing scores of aid workers, journalists and others to camp out on its grounds.

“A hotel has to be like a father, mother, everything at the same time,” said its Haitian general manager, Frantz Rimpel, who began at the establishment washing dishes 42 years ago.

He and the Villa Creole staff have lived through their fair share of crises in the poor Caribbean state — the fall of governments and devastation of hurricanes — but nothing quite like this.

Tens of thousands of Haitians are feared dead after Tuesday's powerful earthquake, and countless more are hurt or homeless.

“When (President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide was thrown out in 2004, it was tough. An Italian journalist had toothache, and when I took him to see a doctor, they nearly killed us at a roadblock,” he said. “But this earthquake overshadows everything. We were totally unprepared.”

Like many of the buildings in the upscale Petionville district of Port-au-Prince, the hotel has taken a big hit from Tuesday's disaster, its central structure crushed.

Beautiful paintings and carvings lie covered in dust and cement blocks.

No staff members were hurt in the destruction, although like all Haitians at this time of national disaster, most have lost relatives and friends.

In the first few days, the hotel simply — and generously — left its doors open, allowing foreign aid workers, correspondents and others with nowhere to go to come in for free. A generator kept power up, and an Internet service was occasionally conjured up from somewhere.

When one aid group started handing out medicine and bandages to the injured, word spread, and soon scores of Haitians began to gather outside the front entrance. Some died, and their bodies were left lying in the road.

Overwhelmed by the scale of the injuries coming to them — gashes, internal bleeding, trauma, broken limbs — workers from aid groups Hope for Haiti and the International Medical Corps, both based at the hotel, went out on Thursday in search of facilities to carry out operations.

Source: ChinaPost

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