Haiti's President Safe Despite Palace Collapse

President Rene Preval and his wife were not hurt despite the collapse of the presidential palace. Preval says the scene in Haiti is unimaginable. He talked to Jacqueline Charles, a reporter for The Miami Herald. Charles talks to Deborah Amos about her conversation with the president, and what else is going in Haiti after Tuesday's deadly earthquake.

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DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A man named Ian Rogers woke up today on a hillside in the capital of Haiti and began walking the streets between buildings that had been wrecked by an earthquake.

IAN ROGERS: It was early in the morning, just before sunrise, and you and you had people already walking on the streets, walking very solemnly and clearly walking in directions to either look for relatives or to look for places that are more secure to stay.

INSKEEP: Ian Rogers is with Save the Children, one of the aid groups in a country that was in desperate shape even before yesterday's disaster knocked down many buildings in the capital.

He was walking through the city on the morning after a quake that measured a magnitude of 7.0.

AMOS: Aid agencies are rushing in to help. Miami Herald correspondent Jacqueline Charles reports that the airport is open for military and aid flights. But the air traffic control tower collapsed, so pilots will be guided only by what they can see.

We reached Jacqueline Charles in Florida as she was trying to get on a flight into Haiti, and she said that she had spoken with Haiti's president, Rene Preval, and the first lady, this morning.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: He basically described the scene as, quote-unquote, "unimaginable." He said he has not slept since yesterday. He fortunately was not in the presidential palace, which partially collapsed. At the time that I was speaking to him and the first lady, they were standing in front of parliament, where inside the president of the Haitian senate, Kelly Bastin(ph), was trapped. He has been trapped there overnight. He was still alive, but basically they were trying to rescue him as well as (unintelligible) outside of the parliament. He declined or was reluctant, really, to really give a death toll, because he said we really need to make an assessment, but he says that he had traveled to various neighborhoods and seen the devastation and that the country is destroyed.

There are a number of schools that have collapsed - you know, children that are trapped underneath, lots of dead bodies. In fact, they were stepping over dead bodies as they were standing before parliament.

AMOS: And this is the president and the first lady.

CHARLES: Yes, this is the president and the first lady. The house where he was at, that house has also undergone severe, severe damage, and he was able to get to safety. We have not heard much from the government because the communications has just been down.

AMOS: Jacki, we are reading that the aftershocks are almost as hard as the earthquake itself, something around 5.0.

CHARLES: Yes. I mean in fact while I was speaking to the president and the first lady, both of them said to me, Jacqueline, at this very moment we are feeling the aftershocks - I mean we are feeling it. Here we are a day later, they are still feeling the aftershocks, and from individuals who I spoke to yesterday, I think we counted - what, almost two dozen, if not more, aftershocks that were being felt.

AMOS: And we spoke to people this morning who said that there's almost two parts to the city. Up on the hills, people actually drove home last night. But down in the lower parts of the city, that's where the devastation is.

CHARLES: Yes, there are cars that are basically (unintelligible) roads - the president told me that there are people (unintelligible) sleep in their houses, they slept in the streets because they were too afraid to sleep in the house for fear that the walls would cave in on them. But also there are devastations in the hills, where you have some of the wealthier communities. We still have not received word on some of the hotels in terms of the devastation. I mean I think (unintelligible) the sun is out and basically, you know, they're waiting for rescue teams to come in to assist them, but also for them to really get a sense of how do you start to rebuild this country and basically dig it from underneath this rubble.

AMOS: Can we go back to an even more essential question: Do they have enough water?

CHARLES: That's the thing. The electricity now has been - you know, there's no electricity. I mean on a good day in Haiti, electricity is a problem. But I have to tell you - you know, because of the hurricane season, there was a lot of preparation, a lot of preparation that went in for hurricane season because of the four storms that battered that nation in 2008 in a matter of four weeks, and so as a result of that, the international aid organizations had stocked up with food and supplies. So I don't think that's going to be a real problem. I think the biggest problems, as Elizabeth Perval, the first lady, said to me, is going to be getting engineers, getting the type of equipment into the country to begin to lift some of this debris, to begin to dig some these people out from underneath this rubble. It's going to be providing medical assistance. I mean I've seen some (unintelligible) that have come out of the place and so that is really what they're going to need. The general hospital (unintelligible) hospital, it collapsed.

The president said those hospitals that are still standing, they are just packed, packed with people.

AMOS: And where are you going to go first, Jacki, when you get into town?

CHARLES: I think the biggest question for me when I get there is basically trying to see where we can get to. We don't know how far we can get.

AMOS: Thank you very much. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald.

CHARLES: Thank you.

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