Quake Survivors Gather In Makeshift Shelters

Last week's earthquake in Haiti has left many survivors homeless. Some have turned to sleeping on the street, in parks and other open spaces.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the lower estimates of the numbers of Haitian dead are around 50,000. The highest estimates reached 200,000, and the wide range is a reminder here that any such number is really just a guess.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It appears that even more people were forced out of their homes and are now living outside on the street or in city parks and other open spaces.

NPRs Greg Allen has been visiting some of those encampments.

GREG ALLEN: You cant really call them tent cities. A tent would be luxurious compared to the conditions in which a vast number of Haitians are now living.

This is called Place Canape Vert. Its really sort of an amphitheater with concrete seats circling around a central area. Its a place where people might have concerts or gather. And everywhere you look in here you see one tarpaulin after another, blankets strung up to hold the sun off people. Every square patch of ground, you've got whole extended families sitting on a mattress or on a blanket, just sitting here because there is nothing else to do.

Ms. REGINA SANTELM: (Foreign language spoken)

ALLEN: On a plot next to the street, Regina Santelm(ph) is kind of the person that's hard to miss. She talks to everyone who passes by while she cooks. She's working with her daughter to make food, she says, so she can support all 10 members of her family. She's making cabbage-filled pies called patties and frying them in oil over a charcoal stove. I ask her how she has the energy to work so hard just days after the earthquake.

Ms. SANTELM: (Through Translator) All things (unintelligible), she's saying that God will do, will do something for the whole family.

ALLEN: Like, all 10 members of them?

Unidentified Man: Yeah, 10 members of the family.

ALLEN: This neighborhood, Canape Vert, was hit hard by the earthquake. The stench of dead bodies permeates the area from surrounding homes where theyve not yet been removed. Almost as bad is the smell from a median strip in the road people are using as a toilet.

There's little food and water. It's an abominable situation that's only getting worse. While I'm there, patient Mars Smith(ph) was just one of the people who handed me a note with his phone numbers, address and email account.

Tell me, why are you giving me this paper?

Mr. MARS SMITH: So that my son will know my email address, you know, email...

ALLEN: Yeah.

Ms. SMITH: ...also my number, telephone.

ALLEN: Right.

Ms. SMITH: (unintelligible)

ALLEN: So to get the word out to your family that you're safe?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

ALLEN: This is a relatively small park, but several hundred people are crammed in here, and most are grieving for dead family and friends. There are the poor, also the middle class, people like Jean Antoine Batae(ph), who works for the UN. He's on a two-week leave while he recovers from the death of his mother and four sisters in the earthquake. Only his brother-in-law survived.

Mr. JEAN ANTOINE BATAE: They were assembly to pray in the afternoon. Before starting the prayer, the earthquake struck and everybody has been dead. Nobody is alive right now. The - I cannot even look at the house where they were living.

ALLEN: There are, by one count, more than 16 encampments like this Haiti. In La Gonave and other towns west of Port-au-Prince, 80 to 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed, displacing more than 50,000 people, according to the UN. The Haitian government is encouraging people to return to their homes, if possible. At the same times, it's making plans to set up 14 camps for displaced people, including some that will be located outside of the city.

In the heart of Port-au-Prince, near the presidential palace, the largest park, Champs De Mars, had now become the largest encampment. It's home to an estimated 50,000 people. Clothes hang out to dry on monuments. Under a tarp in one part of the park, Maton Garby(ph) is lying on a wooden door. It's the door neighbors carried her out on after the house fell down around her, injuring her back.

Ms. MATON GARBY: (Through Translator) She was inside the house, but after the earthquake, people just come and (unintelligible) in the house, you know. But...

ALLEN: And dug her up. Does she...

Unidentified Man: Yeah. She has been saved by the grace of God.

ALLEN: That's something you hear a lot from Haitians. It's God's will, they say. It's a faith that will be tested in coming weeks, months and years. Greg Allen, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Now, out alongside the encampments that Greg described, rescue workers are still trying to find people in the wreckage of buildings. Elsewhere in today's program, we hear from NPR's Jackie Northam, who's followed one rescue crew outside the city. There are other devastated cities beyond the capital of Haiti.

Inside Port-au-Prince, a Danish staffer was pulled alive from the remains of the United Nations headquarters. In all, we're told about 1,700 rescue workers are digging through the rubble now and that crews report they have pulled about 70 people out of the rubble and into the open air.

(Soundbite of music)

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