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Haitians seek cash as banks stay closed

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN
Hatians wait many hours at the few Western Union and UniBank branches that are open, such as this one in Carrefour.
Hatians wait many hours at the few Western Union and UniBank branches that are open, such as this one in Carrefour.
  • Quake survivors are waiting hours outside wire transfer businesses
  • Banks have remained closed since the January 12 earthquake
  • Basic groceries are easy to find, but people can't access their money to buy them
  • Officials say provincial banks will likely open Friday; Port-au-Prince branches Saturday

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- The longest and most visible lines in Haiti's capital are not for food, water or gas. They are for money.

Earthquake survivors need cash and are waiting hours outside wire transfer businesses, including Western Union, that are starting to reopen.

"I have no money," 32-year-old Anderson Bellegarde said Thursday, in his sixth hour standing outside a UniBank money wire branch.

The business in Carrefour, near the epicenter of the earthquake and about eight miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince, was operating at a crawl. A line of Haitians loudly pleaded with guards, putting their hands around the blue iron gate and urging to be let in more quickly to access funds wired to them from beyond the disaster zone.

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Very little currency trickled into Haitian hands Thursday. There was little financial movement in the disaster zone, with most banks remaining shut.

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Bellegarde looked at the closed bank next to the money transfer station and squinted his eyes. "That's where our money's at, and they're holding it," he told CNN Radio. "We need it so we can buy food."

Basic groceries are relatively easy to find for sale throughout the streets of Port-au-Prince. Those with canned goods, some produce and even ice and bread have formed a massive, impromptu market. But most quake survivors do not have the cash to buy any of it.

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"I have not eaten for two days," Bellegarde said, "I'm only drinking water."

Banks have been closed since the January 12 earthquake. There were widespread rumors that the Haitian government would force them to open Thursday, but that didn't happen.

Now, officials say provincial banks will likely open Friday, and branches in Port-au-Prince will restart business Saturday.

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