Wary Of Earth, Haitians Take To Water

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Haiti's government says it is ending the search and rescue phase for survivors, following last week's magnitude-7 earthquake. But rescue crews won't be kept from continuing their work. Meanwhile, Haitians are trying to flee their destroyed capital by the tens of thousands, with living conditions in Port-au-Prince now primitive at best. NPR's Jason Beaubien speaks to guest host Audie Cornish from the Caribbean island's docks.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish in for Scott Simon.

Haiti mourned its death today as hundreds pay final respects to an archbishop and other victims killed in last weeks earthquake. As humanitarian aid continues to pour into the country, tens of thousands of Haitians are trying to flea their destroyed capital, where living conditions are now primitive at best.

NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us at the Caribbean island's docks, where people are trying to leave by boat. Now, Jason, could you start out by describing the scene? Tell us where you are.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Well, the main port here in Port-au-Prince is actually heavily damaged, but I'm not even at the port. This is just a sort of a side of the water near Cite Soleil. And people have come down here to try to catch some boats that have been leaving and going to the south of Haiti. People refer to it as the south, but on the map it's sort of the southwest, cities along the coast there.

People have brought all their belongings. They've been sleeping overnight out here, just here waiting, hoping to get out of Port-au-Prince.

CORNISH: Who is the entity that's running these boats?

BEAUBIEN: These are just private boats. They're old, basically old clunkers. There's a bunch of rusty boats in the harbor, and what people do is they get into these very small, little boats and then they row them out to the other boat.

And earlier this week, it actually got incredibly chaotic as people just flooded one of the boats that came in. And the people were scrambling onto it, and there was concern that it was going to sink. These are just private boats, and that's what people are taking to get out.

CORNISH: Are you talking to people and what are they telling you?

BEAUBIEN: People are saying that, you know, they've lost their entire family. That their house fell down, killed everyone except them. Other members of their family are still out in Jeremie and these other places. And so, they're just trying to get out of here. And also, there's a sense that Port-au-Prince isn't livable anymore.

People that I'm talking to say they have gotten no food distribution whatsoever. And down here, they're also asking us for water. People are really desperate and that's a lot of what's driving this mass exodus at the moment, this recognition that you just cannot survive right now in this city.

CORNISH: And it's been 11 days since the massive earthquake shook Haiti. Can you give us a sense of if relief efforts are moving along any more than what we've heard.

BEAUBIEN: I mean, you might even be able to hear the helicopters in the sky at the moment. Certainly this relief effort, it's rolling, it's moving along. There are goods flowing into the country. There's tons of stuff out at the airport. But at the same time, if you talk to people on the street, most of them will say they have gotten absolutely nothing.

And yesterday, you had a massive food distribution by the World Food Programme. But so many people, thousands and thousands of people were standing in line. But in the end, they were getting one bottle of water and a little bag of cookies.

CORNISH: NPR's Jason Beaubien joining us from Haiti on the water's edge. Jason, thank you for talking with us.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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