by Herb Boyd
For New Pittsburgh Courier
PORT-au-PRINCE, Haiti (NNPA)—Hurricane-ravaged Port-au-Prince continues to rebound even as the rainy season approaches the island of Haiti.
This week, U.S. officials are scurrying to deliver portable toilets, hurricane-resistant tents and plastic tarps that Haitian Tourism Minister Patrick Delatour has said he prefers for the coming torrential rains, possible hurricanes and mudslides. Already eight people were killed over the weekend in flooding after a downpour—and the rainy season has not fully started in earnest.
|RECOVERY CONTINUES—Haitian workers continue to press for normalcy as the people prepare for the rainy season.
It’s not just the weather, but conditions potentially caused by the weather that’s concerning the citizens and relief workers. Those conditions could mean the spread of disease, human waste and even human bodies, many of which did not receive proper burial in the initial aftermath of the earthquake. Nearly 200,000 were killed.
Meanwhile, life in the capital continues to struggle. After you get beyond the fact that Haiti, particularly Port-au-Prince, is a modern day ruin—which is not easy when around each new corner is a more devastating scene—there is the amazing vitality, ingenuity and creativity of the Haitian people.
This ability, this undying resilience, was evident from one end of the city to another during a whirlwind visit to the city by a team of Black journalists in mid- February. Here and there were welders, their torches melding torn metal; masons mending broken walls; carpenters repairing doors and roof tops; painters putting a fresh gloss on ravaged buildings; and the countless vendors setting up shop in front of totally damaged structures.
And exactly one month after the catastrophe, the spirit of recovery was seen in the hundreds of people walking along the streets and roads, many of them dressed in white, on their way to various sites of mourning, ready to remember the dead and dying as they celebrate another day of living.
“We are determined to put our homes and our lives back together,” said a young man, who stood with his mother and father outside a tent where bricks provided a makeshift foundation. “Our home was completely destroyed, so this will have to do until we can do better.”
Even for this reporter, who visited Mississippi and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and stood as an eyewitness to the collapse of the World Trade Center, spending four days amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding neighborhoods is to experience a tragedy of almost incomparable proportions.
It was mind-boggling to see the president’s palace, an architectural wonder, its twin domes crushing the floors below; the beautiful National Cathedral with only the historic statues as a reminder of its splendor; and all of the city’s municipal buildings in silent piles of dusty cement with rods of steel protruding like rusty fingers.
Immediately the question becomes why some buildings remain standing while others crumbled in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake? “Many of the buildings that collapsed were built without consideration of the building codes,” said Delatour, a trained architect who studied at Howard University and is leading the recovery effort.
It will take several years and $3 billion to complete the recovery, Delatour speculated, “Though it could be much more because it’s hard to factor in everything at the moment,” he added.
Nothing was more depressing than to see the long line of injured people outside one of the city’s few functioning hospitals, where emergency rescue units have set up tents to provide additional space for the injured.
“We can handle maybe 500 patients a day here,” said Dr. Alix Lasseque, executive director of the State University Hospital in Port-au-Prince. “But we are terribly understaffed and we can’t perform major surgeries here.”
When it comes to shelter, the distribution of food and water, and tending to the medical needs of the people, Carlene Dei, head of the USAID mission, said great strides had been made, “but there is still so much more to be done.”
Overall, Dei said, referring to the relationship between her organization and the Haitian government, “We can do better than we’re doing…what’s needed is a whole new paradigm.”
That new paradigm, especially in reference to the rebuilding of Haiti, is something that Delatour has given considerable thought. “You see, I’m an optimist,” he told the African-American delegation. “For me the glass is always half full, not half empty.
(NNPA News Service Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this story.)