Quake-battered Haiti hotel offers refuge for all

Fri Jan 15, 2010 3:01am EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Crumbled walls cover priceless works of Haitian art. There are dead bodies outside the entrance. Food will run short soon.

Following the devastating earthquake that wrecked Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, the once-elegant Hotel Villa Creole, set on a hillside with lush tropical vegetation, is still, astonishingly, open for business.

The establishment is operating a hospital in its front entrance and allowing scores of aid workers, journalists and others to camp out on its grounds.

"A hotel has to be like a father, mother, everything at the same time," said its Haitian general manager, Frantz Rimpel, who began at the establishment washing dishes 42 years ago.

He and the Villa Creole staff have lived through their fair share of crises in the poor Caribbean state -- the fall of governments and devastation of hurricanes -- but nothing quite like this.

Tens of thousands of Haitians are feared dead after Tuesday's powerful earthquake, and countless more are hurt or homeless.

"When (President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide was thrown out in 2004, it was tough. An Italian journalist had toothache, and when I took him to see a doctor, they nearly killed us at a roadblock," he said. "But this earthquake overshadows everything. We were totally unprepared."

Like many of the buildings in the upscale Petionville district of Port-au-Prince, the hotel has taken a big hit from Tuesday's disaster, its central structure crushed.   Continued...