PORT-AU PRINCE, Haiti – Heavy gunfire echoed Thursday in a once-quiet neighborhood 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 home this week.
The fighting raging in four districts on the north side of Port-au-Prince is a new culmination of criminal violence that has escalated as more and more powerful gangs try to control more territory under the political power vacuum left by the assassination of President Jovenel on July 7. Moses.
“I left everything behind,” said Kerline Brutus, 35, who fled with her three children from one of the neighborhoods, Butte Boyer, a long quiet district where she has lived for more than 25 years.
She had to give up her 96-year-old lame father because she could not carry him. “I do not know how he feels if he is still alive,” she said.
Brutus said she keeps praying for him as she struggles to find shelter for her family. They have been sitting together under the advantage of a shop with an awning that protects them from the rain, but she is looking for more permanent shelter.
‘It seems that this country has no authorities. No one came here to see us. We do not know how long we will be here or how long it will last, ”she said, reiterating the Haitians’ frustration over the rise in violence.
About 100 automatic weapons police officers spread through the neighborhood, checking people and their belongings, but gunfire was heard nearby.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration has fought to improve security, although it is getting help from the international community to strengthen an understaffed and underfunded police department.
Defenders Plus, a local human rights group, accused political leaders of being careless, incompetent and unable to “ensure one of the fundamental functions of any state: the security of its territory.”
It also demanded that the authorities “assume their responsibility to guarantee the population’s right to life and safety.”
Government officials did not return calls for comment.
Authorities said fighting between a gang known as Chen Mechan (Bad Dog on Haitian Creole) and the 400 Mawozo gang that kidnapped 17 U.S. missionaries last year began Sunday. The 400 Mawozo gang is considered to be the more powerful of the two and has long been accused of kidnapping and other violent acts.
Government officials have said they are concerned that violence in this area will worsen and that people will continue to flee.
“This almost cost me my life because they broke into my home and made me lie on the ground,” said Melissa Vital, 25, who has a 3-year-old daughter. “Fortunately, my boyfriend was not there because they killed men they found in houses.”
She said gang members ordered her and her daughter to leave their home in Butte Boyer.
“I do not know where to go right now,” Vital said, adding that she feels weak because she is still breastfeeding her daughter but has not had much to eat. “I’ve been in the same clothes since Sunday.”
Thousands of Haitians who were hit by a wave of gang violence last year in the Martissan community in the southern part of Port-au-Prince still live in overcrowded and unhygienic public shelters, and it is not clear how recently displaced families will take hen.
Emmanuel Piersaint, a coordinator for the Haitian Civil Protection Agency, told The Associated Press that officials provided displaced families with toiletries and provided them with spaghetti, rice and beans.
“We hope the situation does not get worse,” he said.
Authorities say fighting in the Butte Boyer, Croix-des-Missions, Marecage and Mapou neighborhoods could block the main roads leading to Haiti’s northern region. Warring gangs are already occupying the main road leading to the south of Haiti, making it difficult for aid to reach those affected by a deadly earthquake last year.
Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.