Heavy gunfire echoed Thursday in a once quiet neighbourhood in Haiti’s capital that has become ground zero in a gang fight that has killed at least 20 people, injured more than a dozen and forced thousands to flee their homes this week.
Parents grabbed children by the hands as they balanced bags on their heads with the few belongings they could salvage after gang members ousted them from their homes.
The fighting raging in four districts on the nothern side of Port-au-Prince is a new peak in the criminal violence that has surged as increasingly powerful gangs try to control more territory during the political power vacuum left by the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
“I left everything behind,” said Kerline Brutus, 35, who fled with her three children from one of the neighbourhoods, Butte Boyer, a long quiet district where she has lived for more than 25 years.
She had to abandon her 96-year-old paralysed father because she couldn’t carry him.
“I don’t know how he’s doing, if he’s still alive,” she said.
Brutus said she keeps praying for him as she struggles to find shelter for her family. They have been huddling under the front step of a store with an awning that protects them from the rain, but she is looking for more permanent shelter.
“It seems like this country has no authorities. No one came here to see us. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here or how long this is going to last,” she said, echoing the frustration of Haitians over the rise in violence.
Some 100 police officers carrying automatic weapons spread through the neighbourhood checking people and their belongings, but barrages of gunfire rang out nearby.
The administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry has struggled to improve security even as it gets help from the international community to boost an understaffed and underfunded police department.