July 30, 2009

Shipwrecked Haitians tell of ordeal as search ends

Reprinted from the Jamaica Observer

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos — The young man was weak and alone when searchers found him on an uninhabited island shortly before authorities ended the hunt for victims of the sinking of a rickety sailboat crowded with people fleeing Haiti's poverty.

Fifteen migrants were confirmed dead, 118 were rescued and about 70 others remained missing when the United States Coast Guard and local officials called a halt to search efforts late yesterday afternoon after a 52-hour operation that covered more than 1,500 square miles (3,800 square kilometers) of ocean.

In the hours before the search came to an end, a Haitian man in his 20s was discovered on an uninhabited island of West Caicos and was flown to Providenciales for medical treatment, a police spokesman, Sergeant Calvin Chase, said.

No details were available on his ordeal, but other migrants began to give a fuller picture of the disaster.

There was no warning when the overcrowded sailboat plowed into a coral reef and began to break apart near the Turks and Caicos Islands. In the darkness, some 200 migrants were plunged into the water, grabbing desperately at anything that might keep them afloat.

Joanel Pierre, a skinny 18-year-old, lifted his gray t-shirt yesterday to display the scratches clawed into his body by drowning shipmates.

"The ones who knew how to swim, swam," he told The Associated Press, speaking quietly and averting his eyes.

"The ones who didn't, died."

Thursday July 30th, 09

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