January 24, 2010 in Nation/World

Banks reopen in Haiti capital

Officials counting on commerce for boost
Mitchell Landsberg And Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

A woman walks with an orange peel in her nose to avoid the harsh smell in Port-au-Prince on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The earthquake destroyed just about everything Georges Marceau owned, even his shoes.

For 10 days, the 38-year-old engineer couldn’t even withdraw money to buy food: All of the banks in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, had been closed since the Jan. 12 quake.

So on Saturday, the day the banks reopened, Marceau was up early and in line shortly after 5 a.m. at a Sogebank branch. A tall man with a dignified bearing and a neatly trimmed beard, he was dressed in slacks, a sports jacket and awkward-looking clogs.

“I want some money in my pocket,” he said. “I want money to eat.”

Many bank branches collapsed in the earthquake and won’t be reopening soon, if ever. But banks that had doors to open did so Saturday, attracting long lines of anxious and sometimes desperate people in a city where ATMs haven’t been working since the earthquake.

The opening was a significant step forward for Haiti, where commerce came to a crashing halt with the 7.0 earthquake that killed as many as 200,000 people.

Haitian officials have counted on the bank reopening to give businesses a boost and free up money to begin the long task of rebuilding the country.

The effects were not immediately felt.

“We put this stuff out, we don’t sell anything,” complained Mimos Charles, 32, who was selling okra alongside other vendors on a busy street. “We sit on the street for nothing.”

Up the street at the Lola Market, a small, well-stocked grocery, manager Vladimir Thermitus said business was down by 50 percent and he hadn’t seen a surge following the bank opening. But he was hopeful.

“With the banks open, business is going to be better,” he said. “It’s natural.”

But a return to normal? That seemed a long way off.

Also Saturday, hundreds of Haitian priests in long, white albs mourned the loss of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, the leading Roman Catholic prelate in the country, at a funeral Mass at the ruins of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

They were joined by members of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, led by Archbishop Timothy Nolan of New York.

Two white coffins rested under a tarp, one for Miot and the second for Charles Benoit, the general vicar of the church who languished several days in the rubble but could not be rescued. At least two bodies were still visible at the rear of the church, pinned by rubble.

“This is very hard to explain,” said the Rev. Giroux Mirine, a Canadian priest who has lived and worked in Haiti for 19 years. “We cannot blame God. We have to confront nature.”


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