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Hundreds mourn Catholic leaders in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hundreds of Haitians — some still bandaged, many in tears — gathered in the parking lot of the destroyed cathedral here Saturday for the funeral of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince.

Revered as a humble servant of the poor, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, 63, died as so many others did: crushed by his own home. Priests and his relatives emphasized that his death was one among multitudes.

For the service, wooden pews from the ruined church, where countless bodies remain entombed beneath pale pink rubble and shattered stained glass, were set out in the broad courtyard in front of the cathedral.

Amid blooming oleander bushes and the occasional pop of gunfire from the volatile business district nearby, politicians and diplomats, seminarians and novices prayed, sang and remembered Miot, 63, and Bishop Charles Benoit, the city's vicar general, who was also crushed to death in the quake. His body lay in a white casket, topped with a spray of bright flowers, next to the one holding the archbishop.

"If Monsignor Miot were alive, he would tell us to have courage, to be strong in starting over," said Marie-Andre Baril, 53, a bank teller whose home was destroyed.

The devout Catholic population of this city has lost the head of its church, a vivid example of one of the quake's cruelest outcomes. Many of those killed were the very people who, in times of tragedy, would be sought out for solace and explanation.

Meanwhile, as the United Nations said the Haitian government had declared an end to searches for living people trapped in the rubble, yet another survivor was saved. Rescuers said they reached Wismond Exantus by digging a narrow tunnel through the wreckage of a hotel grocery store where he was buried for 11 days.

Exantus, who is in his 20s, was placed on a stretcher and given intravenous fluids as onlookers cheered. He later told the Associated Press he survived by diving under a desk during the quake and later consuming some cola, beer and cookies in the cramped space.

"I was hungry, but every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive," Exantus said from his hospital bed.

Authorities have stopped short of explicitly directing all teams to halt rescue efforts, and hopeful searchers continued picking through the ruins. But U.N. relief workers said the shift in focus is critical to care for the thousands living in squalid, makeshift camps that lack sanitation. While deliveries of food, medicine and water have ticked up after initial logjams, the need continues to be overwhelming and doctors fear outbreaks of disease in the camps.

"It doesn't mean the government will order them to stop. In case there is the slightest sign of life, they will act," U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said. She added that, "except for miracles, hope is unfortunately fading."

All told, some 132 people have been pulled alive from beneath collapsed buildings, she said.

Experts say the chance of saving trapped people begins diminishing after 72 hours. One mother still missing her children said it's too soon to give up.

"Maybe there's a chance they're still alive," said Nicole Abraham, 33, wiping away tears as she spoke of hearing the cries of her children — ages 4, 6 and 15 — for the first two days after the quake.

Some intact businesses are preparing to open this week. Among them are Haiti's banks, many of them badly damaged and stripped of cash reserves. Those that remain standing are replenishing vaults with the help of U.S. security forces, who were scheduled Saturday to protect the delivery of $2 million to a dozen banks.

Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti's culture and communications minister, said that 150,000 bodies from the streets had been collected and buried in the past 11 days.

The United Nations reported the government has confirmed 111,481 deaths and 609,000 homeless in metropolitan Port-au-Prince. These numbers were preliminary.

A very preliminary estimate by the Haitian government on what it needs to rebuild the country is $3 billion. Haiti's Minister of Tourism Patrick Delatour said that number could "triple or multiply."

The breakdown is: $2 billion for new housing, rebuilding schools and health facilities; $500 million for rehabilitating infrastructure and $500 million to restore government buildings, courthouses and the prison in Port-au-Prince.

Speaking on C-SPAN, the Haitian ambassador to the United States sketched an optimistic future for the island nation's capital city Port-au-Prince — a smaller, well-built city to replace the teeming, chaotic and shoddily built sprawl of almost 3 million people that was virtually wiped away by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"There is a silver lining," Raymond Joseph said. "What was not politically possible, was done by the earthquake. We will rebuild differently ....

"The future of Haiti will be very different from the past."

Information from the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Hundreds mourn Catholic leaders in Haiti 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 11:07pm]
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