Words cannot describe what I saw, heard, and smelled today.
Devastating is maybe the closest I could come, but I think that might have already been a common descriptor for Haiti prior to the earthquake. But I also think it’s about as close as I can get.
Downtown Port-au-Prince looks like a warzone. The only difference is the streets are still bustling with people. The tight streets and the little-to-no sidewalks make for narrow squeezes amongst a lot of people. Seeing how many people are crammed onto the streets makes it easy to visualize how many citizens were crushed by the crumbling buildings.
The city’s main drag, Boulevard JJ Dessalines, is practically destroyed. You cannot see the pavement on the street, which is now instead a cover of one-inch thick dust and dirt. Roofs are now sitting on the ground, floors from buildings are flattened beneath them.
The wind blows dust, papers, and the smell of dead bodies in different directions, while workers paid $5 a day begin to remove rubble from a building that once housed a telecommunications company.
Some blocks are completely closed to traffic because of the destruction spilling into the street. The wreckage and smell leaves no doubt that there are bodies of Haitians under the rubble, the bodies of people most likely wrapping up their work for the day before heading home to their family when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit just after 5:00 p.m. on January 12.
Perhaps like the family of one a 11-year-old, Ishkud Belfour, who sat in the Centre Hospitalier du Sacre-Coeur hospital, a cast on his arm and a huge smile on his face. According to a U.S. doctor volunteering at the hospital, the boy self-admitted himself after the earthquake, which killed every member of his family except his grandmother, who has psychological problems and wasn’t suited to care for him. So he is, in essence, an orphan. He ran away from his grandma to get help with his arm, and is now one of two orphans at Cetre Hospitalier du Sacre-Coeur. The boy, ingratiating himself to everyone who walked by, and during our visit was having people sign his cast, was in fact not the cutest orphan to pass through the hospital.
The doctor — one of 40 doctors at that particular hospital from the US — told a story of a volunteer doctor walking down the street one night, and heard a baby crying. After searching around, the doctor found a months-old baby alone in a vacant lot. The baby’s needs were too great for that hospital, they eventually determined, and was transferred to another hospital. Sacre-Coeur has reported seeing 3,625 patients since the start of the earthquake, and operated on more than half of those people. According to estimates, 15,000 people have had limbs amputated. But after speaking with those in charge of the hospital, it appears Direct Relief International will be able to provide the location with medical supplies.
Just blocks away from Boulevard , the presidential palace is barely standing, with one of its three domes completely destroyed, the other two leaning in opposite directions under crumbling walls. A Haitian flag, with no place on the palace left for it to fly, now hangs limply on a light post lining the well-manicured lawn.
The lawn is one of the few green places not covered with a tent city right now, with the definition of tent as vague as possible, as most of them are simply a shredded tarp or sheet draped over a line. Garbage is quickly piling up, and sewage is flowing through the streets. Elsewhere, tents are actually set up in the streets, with rocks placed as barriers between the tents and traffic. One, near our hotel, has a sign next to it reading, “Help us. We’re earthquake victims.” It’s one of more than ten I’ve seen since we’ve arrived with a similar message.