Haitian Communities Set Up Neighborhood Watches

In sections of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, people are camping out. Their houses have been destroyed, or they are afraid of aftershocks. Neighborhood watch communities have been formed. They guard their belongings from looters, help each other with material needs and keep each others' spirits up.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All over Port-au-Prince, as we've seen and heard, people are camping out. With their homes demolished or just because theyre scared, Haitians have moved into the streets, where theyre forming neighborhood watch committees, sharing what they have as they try to keep their spirits up.

NPRs John Burnett visited one of those neighborhoods last night, and he sent us this postcard from Petionville.

JOHN BURNETT: As we approached a group of people lounging on the pavement of the Rue Clairvough(ph), I stupidly asked one of our translators, are they having a street party? Edson Madeas(ph), a 27-year-old cell phone company employee who's temporarily out of work, responds this way.

Mr. EDSON MADEAS: They are not having a street party here. I mean, people are so worried, they are so frustrated, so they don't have time to party and they are not even thinking of sex.

BURNETT: They've been out here for the past 10 nights. Women lie on bed sheets spread out under a crescent moon, their restive children unable to sleep. The only light comes from candles from an animated domino game.

(Soundbite of crumpling)

BURNETT: Maseo Lumpar(ph) is a 28-year-old telecommunications student who's taken upon himself to walk the crowd every night and make sure everyone's okay.

Mr. MASEO LUMPAR: (Through translator) The reason we organize this camping area is because a lot of prisons were destroyed. Now there are crooks, murderers and thieves everywhere. So we want to watch everybody. You've got these guys roaming at night. We want to see who's coming in and out of the neighborhood.

BURNETT: Unlike the twinkling lights of the big houses up on Mount Calvere(ph) that have their own generators, down here the Rue Clairveau is solidly middle class and no one has lights.

But unlike much of the capital, these homes didn't suffer catastrophic damage. Some have cracks in the walls but the houses are still standing. Residents have moved outdoors because they're afraid of a second quake and they're waiting for an engineer to tell them their houses are safe. Fortunately, it's the dry season in Haiti. The women pray that it doesn't rain.

(Soundbite of overlapping voices)

BURNETT: What happened here and throughout Port-au-Prince is the formation of spontaneous communities. It's the same thing that happened in the streets in New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina. When the government never came, lots of people helped one another, looked out for one another.

At the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, where thousands massed to await evacuation, some people cooked and fed the young ones and the old people first - others stood guard at night around the vulnerable to protect them from gangbangers.

Out here in the Rue Clairveau in the days after the earthquake, one can witness the same thing.

(Soundbite of water running)

BURNETT: Somebody tapped into the water line in the middle of the street and installed a spigot for communal washing and drinking.

Cooks share their rice and beans and plates of tomato and chicken. Unlike Port-au-Prince, the street markets are full of food up here in the P�tionville suburb. And to pass the time, they sing sacred music - just like they did in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of singing)

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of singing)

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Governments all around the world have pledged nearly $1 billion in aid to Haiti, according to the latest estimate by the Associated Press. The United States leads the list. It has sent $130 million in aid, along with 12,000 military personnel, ships, helicopters and cargo planes. Still, even the impoverished West African nation of Liberia is sending help - $50,000 in aid.

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