PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 21, 2010 (AFP) - Human chains stretched out from the few shops left standing Thursday in a central district of Port-au-Prince, emptying goods into lorries before the bulldozers moved in under police orders.
"The owners of the damaged shops received an ultimatum - they were ordered to empty their shops," said Maxime Lundy, a member of the Intervention and Maintenance of Order Department, an elite unit of the Haitian police.
Almost every other shop here in the traditional commercial area of Main Street was destroyed in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that levelled Haiti's capital nine days ago.
Now the rest were about to be knocked down.
With a gun in his hand, the inspector watched as Haitians lined up to move cartons of paper out of a mill. Nearby another chain of people emptied a tool shop, while across the road it was a mattress shop which was being cleared.
The frantic activity carried on despite the stench emitted by a corpse lying half-buried in the debris of a neighbouring shop - one of at least 75,000 people killed by the quake.
The police never used to have much of a presence in this part of the normally chaotic Haitian capital, since it was regarded as an intellectual area with numerous second hand bookstores.
The officer said the surviving shops must be emptied and destroyed because they were too badly damaged to be used again.
But the owners believed the real reason for the order is because the police have had enough of trying to fight off looters day and night.
On Thursday the police took harsh action against six young thieves on a tip-off from local residents.
Barefoot, dirty and visibly hungry, the boys aged between 13 and 20 were caught while trying to steal from a bric-a-brac shop called Catoustore.
They were hit several times with sticks until they bled. Then, lacking handcuffs, the police tied the looters to one another with their own t-shirts before sending them on their way.
A policeman explained that the prisons were full, adding that they wanted nevertheless to "convince them never to come back to this area."
A little further off, an elderly man accused of looting was caught by a crowd. Thrown to the ground and beaten, he left the area with nothing but blood and tears.