JACMEL, Jan 20 (AFP) - With their cathedral clock frozen at 5:37, the shocked residents of this earthquake-stricken town in southern Haiti remain cut off from the world and have resorted to chartering boats to ferry out the injured.
"The clock kept on working during the first temblor at 4:40 pm, but it stopped when the second one struck," parish priest Rony Fabien said.
Jacmel Mayor Zenny Edwin said in this port city of 50,000 that the quake killed 300 to 500 people and left some 4,000 injured, well below the 5,000 fatalities a local radio station gave on Sunday.
"Seventy percent of the homes were damaged by the quake" and an unknown number collapsed altogether, he added.
Even with a few crumbled houses here and there, the view of Jacmel was a far cry from the scene of devastation in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, which was largely destroyed in the 7.0-magnitude temblor, leaving at least 75,000 people dead.
In Jacmel's crowded city market, it was hard going weaving through the fruit and vegetable stalls.
In the city's elegant old quarters, colonial-style homes with pillar-supported balconies withstood the quake's onslaught, as did the covered market built in 1895 by Belgian craftsmen.
But the rickety brick homes in the port city's poorer neighborhoods either completely collapsed or were damaged beyond repair, including the Alexandra Manor Hotel.
The tourists that normally throng the city at this time of year are all but gone. A lone American tourist was found dead inside a hotel.
An orphanage run by Dutchwoman Lia Van de Donk, home to 13 children including 10 under four years of age, was still standing but considered too dangerous and had to be evacuated.
The orphans, five of them with AIDS and two handicapped, are now living in tents.
"I looked for a big tent, but couldn't find one, and there's no help from authorities," Van de Donk said.
In his defense, the mayor said the city has received some help from international organizations, but only food and no digging equipment.
"We've evacuated the injured to Santo Domingo in private sailing ships, fishing boats or by plane from our small airport," Edwin said.
"We've even had to clear the mountain road leading to Port-au-Prince by ourselves, because nobody has come to help us," he added.
The road clearing was done in haste and the trip to the capital now takes almost twice as long as the normal two hours.
At the slightest rainfall, however, the road will likely be reclaimed by mudslides.
But the mayor has reason to be hopeful.
The US Army has just announced it will set up camp in Jacmel, and things will soon improve in the city, he said. (By Jacques Guillon/ AFP)