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Worry for Haiti - Gleaner journalist returns but concerned that earthquake-rocked country faces even tougher days

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Water! These Haitians use anything they can find to collect water from a pipe broken by one of the many aftershocks which have been shaking the country since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12. - Ian Allen/Photographer

AT 3:30 Monday morning when the first sign of light appeared, my heart rejoiced: sweet Jamaica, here returneth your son!

After one week in the earthquake-flattened Port-au-Prince, and having experienced personal disasters in the country, I just could not wait for the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard vessel Middlesex to complete its 16-hour voyage from Port-au-Prince to Port Royal.

Haiti was hell. I had lost my tape recorder, my BlackBerry phone was stolen and I had spent the last few days encouraging my Timberland boots not to divorce their soles.

However, my 'tragedy' paled in comparison to what the Haitian people were experiencing.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake which rocked the capital Port-au-Prince not only killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians but injured thousands of others and forced tens of thousands of families from their homes into tent cities.

I was happy to leave Haiti, not because I was afraid of further devastation from aftershocks, which were as many as four per day, but because I don't want to be further exposed to a public-health epidemic that could soon handcuff the poverty-stricken nation.

Two weeks after the earthquake, bodies are still being dumped in open fields, left to rot in the streets or burnt in the streets - not to ash - but enough to remove the skin and pieces of flesh from them. And flies are having a feast.

Garbage-filled market

Port-au-Prince's main market is overrun with garbage and its environs looks and smells like a 10-year-old compost heap. Despite this, vendors exhibit for sale cabbage, onions, scallion, peeled sugar cane and oranges - within a whisker of the filth. The rotten bodies and the foul smell also did not prevent people from cooking fritters and other items, offering them for sale along the streetside.

But while it was business as usual for some persons, it was heart-rending to see Haitians being forced to sleep on the streets, many of them without proper bedding. Fearful of buildings, they now use sheets and sticks to create new 'villages' by the roadside or in open lots. And you can't blame those whose homes are still standing for choosing to make the cold ground their beds and stones their pillows.

Daraine Luton, from Haiti

Even without engineering credentials, I am convinced that many Haitians had been living in death traps. The houses have little steelwork, columns are absent in many cases and the concrete appears to be just a bit stronger than paper glue.

Housing, however, was just one of the problems facing Haitians in the aftermath of the earthquake. Their food burden is massive. It was a tear-jerking experience to watch Haitians cram into various distribution areas for hours as they awaited any little food or relief supplies. Even more agonising, however, was hearing the cries, the moans and groans of adults and children alike.

Look out for Part 2 in tomorrow's Gleaner.