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Stray Bullets Take Their Toll in Haiti Slum

Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, has been struggling for months to quell violence, control kidnappings, and prepare for national elections, which take place next month.

For residents in the Cite Soleil section of Port-au-Prince, avoiding stray bullets is part of the daily struggle to survive. It's a sprawling slum of a quarter of a million people on the city's waterfront.

Loris De Filippi is the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince. But he also moonlights as a nurse at St. Catherine's hospital in Cite Soley.

Medical workers on the night shift travel to the hospital in a convoy that starts in downtown Port-au-Prince. Four Land Rovers carry workers to and from the hospital. It snakes through neighborhoods of burned out buildings and squat concrete homes pocked with bullet holes. Armored United Nations vehicles are also there to try and keep the peace.

In November, the St. Catherine's treated 34 people with gunshot wounds. In December, they treated 80 people. And January looks like it will bring 120 gunshot victims, the majority of whom are women and children.

De Filippi says that the hospital treated an 11-month-old with a bullet in the back the day before.

The U.N. mission began in June of 2004. That was three months after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile, following a violent uprising. The U.N. goal is to stabilize the country, and help it prepare for presidential elections. But the task has not been easy in Cite Soleil.

Many people who live in Cite Soleil say that U.N. troops -- they call them "the whites" -- contribute to the slum's level of violence.

Just before midnight, heavy gunfire erupts outside the hospital walls. Within 15 minutes, a group of people entered St. Catherine's carrying a young couple, bleeding. They use the wooden doors of their houses as stretchers.

While the staff works on the newly arrived patients, bullets crash into the second floor of the hospital. The wall of the pediatrics unit has been sprayed with bullets. Nurses are forced to move the children into a safer location, downstairs.

The night passes quietly, but the dawn brings new tragedy. A young woman wails. Her name is Nadi Baptiste. She says her 50-year-old father has died during the night. He had gunshot wounds in his bowels, and didn't survive the surgery.

Baptiste says the family borrowed money to buy blood, about $26. And now her father is dead, leaving five children and 11 grandchildren. She says she doesn't know how they'll survive, and she just can't take the shooting in the slum any more.

Gunfire continues heavily throughout the morning. The wounded stream in through the front gate. Three women, two men, and a child have been carried into St. Catherine's, and it is not yet 8:30 a.m.

In the emergency room, a little boy, about five-years-old, lies with a bullet in his leg on the table. He says he doesn't know his last name or where he lives, he is just called Henry.

He says the bullets tore through the walls of his house, and one hit his leg. As the doctor prods the wound with his fingers, Henry says the bullet feels like fire in his leg, and he asks if someone has gone get his mother.

De Filippi's shift ends at 9 a.m. He takes the convoy back to headquarters in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Petionville. He says it isn't always easy to make the transition from a war zone back to his day job. He says doesn't have time to mediate the conflict. All he cares about, he says, is saving its victims.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Amelia Shaw