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Port-au-Prince Ten Days Later

January 26, 2010

Originally in Provoices, of

Port-au-Prince international airport has the look of a disaster zone. Military tents and rescue helicopters line both sides of the runway, and loads of relief supplies lie waiting to be distributed. Passengers are let out of planes directly on the tarmac. There is no passport control.

Yet, as disorganized as it all looks, the airport might very well be the best functioning bit in Port-au-Prince, where piles of rubble and debris fill the streets after the massive earthquake that shook the city on January 12th. Buildings taller than two-stories appear to have collapsed onto themselves. Besides the 50,000 estimated deaths, one wonders how many more bodies are buried under the rubble.

But ten days after the Haitian capital was shattered, as aftershocks continue to be felt, a few services have returned. Garbage trucks have started picking up the heaps of accumulated trash. And long lines of people wait outside recently re-opened branches of Western Union hoping to collect remittances sent by their relatives abroad.

Amidst the tragedy, life goes on. Haitians have lived through military coups and devastating hurricanes before this earthquake struck and have a well-wired survival instinct. Street vendors are again selling whatever they can get their hands on, while others try and make money as drivers and translators for foreign news and aid organizations.

The government-or whatever remains of it-is also trying to move on. The big challenge it faces now is accommodating the nearly 2 million people left homeless by the earthquake. In its immediate aftermath, they crammed into makeshift camps across the city. Now the government wants to build more permanent camps in the suburbs, but with the rainy season fast approaching, people fear the worst may be yet to come.

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