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Haiti – Two Weeks After the Earthquake, the Horror Continues

January 29, 2010

Story originally in Provoices, of Allvoices.comPhotos originally on NPR.org

It’s been two weeks since the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, leaving most of Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns in rubble. Yet, despite a strong push on the part of the international community to bring relief to the victims of the quake in the form of drinking water, food and shelter, some of the worst-hit neighborhoods in the capital have yet to see even a bottle of water.

“Nothing has changed here,” said Fort National long-time resident Janette Prince, a tall plump woman with dusty clothes and a straw hat on her head. In the earthquake, Prince lost both of her parents, the youngest of her four kids, her home, and her job. She used to work as an admin at Fort National’s police station, which was flattened. Her eyes are half-opened and red, from tears and lack of sleep. “Nobody has come here, we haven’t seen food, water, doctors, nothing,” Prince said.

The scene at Fort National is post-atomic. It looks more like someone dropped an atomic bomb on the neighborhood than like the aftermath of an earthquake.

A poor, densely populated area of one-room, one-story homes, Fort National comprises a maze of narrow streets winding up to the top of a hill. Before the earthquake, this area of Port-au-Prince was known for the uprisings that broke out at the worst junctures in Haiti’s volatile political history. This is probably one of the reasons why very few people have ventured out here. Now, the neighborhood has been leveled, and mounts of debris line the main road on both sides. From up on top, one can see through the debris out to the valley down below. A domino effect has caused houses to collapse one on top of the other, creating an avalanche of rubble that has buried the entire side of the hill.

“They haven’t even come to pick up dead bodies,” said Lucia Desir, whose daughter is still buried under the rubble. Guided by the reeking smell of corpses, physically and emotionally exhausted residents spend the day digging into the debris to pull out the bodies they can get to. Then, they burn them on top of the ruins. “This is not just a problem of this neighborhood,” said resident Moristil Roger, “this situation can easily turn into a public health nightmare.” As he spoke, two brothers walked by, headed back to their tent camps. They came to Fort National to find and bury their parents.

Fort National is less than a mile from Champs de Mars, Port-au-Prince’s central area, which used to house the Presidential Palace and all government ministries, and which is now home to thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake. Despite the proximity, whatever aid has come to Champs de Mars has yet to make it to Fort National. Some residents trek down the hill and bring back some drinking water, but people here are desperate for more. Food is hard to come by, and with barely any building still standing, there is no working toilet in the neighborhood.

“Some of us have moved to Champs de Mars,” said Janette Prince, “but it’s so overcrowded down there, if aid came to Fort National, they would also come back.” Those who have decided to stay, such as Prince, are here because everything they own is trapped under their collapsed homes and, although very little remains, they are terrified looters will dig in and take away even that last bit.

There is hopelessness in the eyes of Fort National’s remaining residents. They have heard about plans to relocate homeless people to more organized tent camps outside the city, but they don’t think the plan includes them.

Overall, faith in the central government and public servants is dwindling. “Aid organizations brought big tents to us,” said Pierre Richard Pierre Richard Vilmeus, a Fort National resident whose house was flattened and who decided to move his family to Champs de Mars, “but the police took them for themselves.”

Asked about their fears for the long-term, people here shrug. Nobody seems to be able to think about the future. It’s the aftershocks that terrify them. “We are just very worried about more earthquakes,” said Janette Prince, before heading back to her pile of rubble for yet another sleepless night out in the open.

Daily aftershocks continue. Several small ones were felt in Port-au-Prince throughout the night and the morning.

The following photos I shot in Fort National were published on NPR.org, in slide-show that accompanied Corey Flintoff’s piece (captions here are different). This is the link to the original story.

Scenes of devastation in Fort National

Devarieu Stanley just finished burning the body of his mother, whom he pulled out the rubble in Fort National on his own

It is not uncommon, in Fort National, to see fires burning with the ashes of those who have died in the earthquake

Max Paul is a pastor at the Church of God. After losing his wife in the earthquake, he moved into this makeshift tent camp

With nobody coming to collect the trash, people in Fort National burn it on the side of the street

Few families in Fort National have survived together. Residents mourn together the loss of loved ones

Many Fort National residents whose homes are destroyed moved to this makeshift tent camp

The camp is packed with hundreds of man, women and children, some say thousands. There is absolutely no privacy.

Children play on, amidst the devastation

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