In tent cities, residents live on will to survive

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The reality of the magnitude 7 earthquake in Haiti grabbed hold today with the first visit into central Port-au-Prince. Not only was the destruction extensive – just about every building seemed to have significant damage – but the human toll was overwhelming.

At demolished buildings and in tent cities that occupy almost every open area in the capital people approached seeking assistance. Particularly at the tent camp just outside of the Port-au-Prince International Airport today, people crowded around us every time we stopped to talk. Some wanted money, some water, others a job.

Across the road, in an open field within a football field’s length of American and French military barracks on the airport grounds, people seemed to be the most desperate. Even though they, like the others at the more organized camp, were from the nearby Mais Gate neighborhood, they were latecomers to the area. After 18 days, they were just now able to start assembling – building doesn’t seem possible with the limited supplies they had — some sort of shelter. They missed getting a spacious tent courtesy of the U.S. government three days ago.

Many small square sites had been marked off with rope, plastic ribbon or other material on this field of ankle-deep grass. Some of the sites, probably no more than 8 feet by 8 feet in size, had long, thin tree branches or plastic bottles marking the dimensions. A few people were hanging plastic drop cloths, bed sheets, or flimsy curtains to give them a bit of privacy and protection from the elements.

It seems like the 150 or so people on this field were poor even by Haitian standards. They had little with them, possessing nothing but the will to survive.

What’s next? They’re not sure. For now, they’re taking life one day at a time.

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