Assessing The Damage Beyond The Haitian Capital

Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, has been the focus of international attention because of the devastation caused by last week's earthquake. But many other Haitian towns and cities are coping with the deadly aftermath of the quake. NPR's Jackie Northam talks about her trip to Leogane, close to the epicenter of the earthquake.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

Were going to get a glimpse, now, on a portion of Haiti beyond Port-au-Prince. We have seen many images of destruction in the capital, this morning we will learn about another Haitian city called Leogane.

NPRs Jackie Northam went there with a team of search and rescue workers. She is on the line now. Jackie, what did you see?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, Steve, Leogane is about 40 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Its very close to the epicenter of last weeks earthquake. And I went out to this city - its normally about 160,000 people - and we went out, yesterday, with rescue teams from Iceland and the U.K. And these were the first teams to get out to the city since last weeks quake. Before we left, an assessment team which had just returned from the area, said that 80 percent of the buildings in Leogane were destroyed. In Port-au-Prince, you know, you get these areas or pockets where a lot of buildings have been damaged or have collapsed, but I have to tell you, it was shocking to drive into Leogane because the city was essentially flattened. You would be hard pressed to find a building that really had been damaged or collapsed, just mile after mile of buildings that had been destroyed.

INSKEEP: Does anybody have the beginnings of an idea of how many people were killed just in that one place?

NORTHAM: No, they are just getting out to that area now. This city isnt as congested as Port-au-Prince which is good news for Leogane because if you lose a building in Port-au-Prince, there is a very good chance you could lose a 100 people. In Leogane, these are normally one, two storey structures, so if they fall, you dont lose as many people. But again, they really have no sense how many people have been killed at this point, and they havent had people, outside help, to come in and determine that as well. Steve, I want to say one thing about this, though. In Port-au-Prince, you know, when you get these rescue teams, I've been out with them for the past couple of days. There have been quite aggressive crowds and youve seen a lot of looting going on and that type of thing. That wasnt the case in Leogane.

I have to say, the whole time people were waving and trying to help us and saying thank you - everything else. It wasnt nearly the same sort of crowd in Leogane that you were seeing in Port-au-Prince.

INSKEEP: So, did the rescue teams that you were with manage to find anybody? Pull anybody out of the rubble?

NORTHAM: No, no I am afraid they didnt. Neither the British nor the Icelandic teams were able to find anyone surviving. We were there, you know, on the fifth day after the earthquake. And really the only chance of anyone surviving is if they are in an air pocket. And we're seeing people being pulled from these sort of situations in Port-au-Prince. But that wasnt the case in Leogane. As I said, most of the houses, the buildings, you know, just two storey structures and the quality of the construction is incredibly poor.

And what happened is they just pancaked in the quake they really became - two storey buildings became one storey buildings and there arent any of these air pockets where people really could survive and it quickly became clear to the search and rescue teams that he chances of anyone surviving this long in those conditions were remote. You know, we were planning to stay out there in Leogane for a few days to go through the buildings, but in the end we had to come back to Port-au-Prince. It was just decided there are no survivors in any of these destroyed buildings in Leogane.

INSKEEP: Youve mentioned that there were fewer densely populated buildings than in Port-au-Prince but, of course, they were schools.

NORTHAM: Yeah and those were what we concentrated on when we were out there. And this is really the hardest part. I was actually with the Icelandic search and rescue team as they visited several of these schools and they spent a long time at one school where 40 to 50 students were believed to be when the quake happened. And the local residents said that about dozen children has been pulled out alive but that was several days ago. And again the Icelandic team spent a long time at this building.

They put in listening devices and they jackhammered into the flattened roof and they inserted cameras, they sent in dogs but in the end they walked away with nothing. They couldnt see or they couldnt hear any voices or any noise from under the building. And you know, Steve, its so difficult because these were kids in there and the rescue team, you know, they gave it what they had and you could tell they were upset. They've got kids. But you have to move on, you have to look at other areas. But, you know, we are into day six now and everything is on a time clock at this point.

INSKEEP: Well, precisely, where would they focus next?

NORTHAM: There are still some places just outside the city in Port-au-Prince, but what they are looking for is buildings again where they might have these air pockets where people may not have food or water but certainly they have had some air and they might not be in good shape but theyd still be alive, so this morning they head back out again and start searching. There are more than 25 international search teams right now here. Organization has had been a problem, trying to get one point of contact to get them all going, but they will head out again today because there is still a chance if they can find people in these air pockets that they can pull them out.

INSKEEP: NPRs Jackie Northam, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

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