PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Thousands of looters played a deadly version of cat-and-mouse with police in the earthquake-shattered capital on Sunday, stripping stores of canned goods, wash basins and other wares along block after block of a downtown thoroughfare.
The stealing surged and ebbed as police, far outnumbered by the teeming mob of mostly young men and some women, occasionally passed through the section of Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines. Sometimes the officers stopped and fired some shots or arrested a looter or two, and sometimes they simply drove through.
Journalists saw one looter shot in the head and fall dead during one clash when several shots were fired. A few blocks away, later, other police were slapping, kicking and arrested suspected looters.
Two trucks carrying soldiers from the United Nations mission in Haiti passed through the crowd at one point, and did not stop. One of the soldiers took pictures with a pocket-sized camera.
Security has been a major concern since Tuesday’s quake, which collapsed entire police stations and barracks and reduced the snow-white Ministry of Justice to hand-sized rubble. It is believed that hundreds of police officers were lost.
Earthquake in Haiti
At the scene of the looting, the body of the shot man lie sprawled below where looters were scaling a crumpled building, apparently a grocery store, and throwing items to the assembled throng below. At one point, they tossed bottles of shampoo and boxes of soap one at a time into what became a mosh pit as the people in the street scrambled for them.
Several fights broke out over large shiny silver wash bowls. A woman emerged from the group victorious with the bowl, and near her side was a girl toting a wooden club. She also nabbed a bottle of shampoo. Many of the looters worked in teams with similar makeshift bodyguards.
Standing at the edge of the mob, 18-year-old Reginald Elacen suggested the police should be allowing the badly damaged stores to be emptied, and helping keep order. “We really don’t have a choice,” he said, referring to the desperate needs of Haitians who lost everything in the quake. “If the police would help, it could be done without violence.”
The looters appeared to have virtual control of about a ten-block long section of the boulevard, and some of the side streets as well. Still, just a few blocks away on the road, a store owner was calmly overseeing an orderly emptying of his broken shop. He was using a kind of bucket-brigade of some 30 young men stretching over the store’s shattered roof, handing out goods can by can.