Still Littered With Rubble, Haiti Stirs Slowly To Life

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    While hundreds of thousands of people are still in camps and life in Haiti remains chaotic, there are signs of recovery. The city of Jacmel on the southern coast was hard hit, but is quickly returning to normal.
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    Residents of Jacmel are struggling to recover from the earthquake damage and to support the flood of displaced people from other areas of the country.
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    Fishermen in Jacmel return from a day at sea. They have struggled to get back on their feet since January's earthquake, which destroyed most of their fishing boats.
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    One of Jacmel's greatest challenges is waste disposal. People who fled from Port-au-Prince are living on and littering the streets, making it hard to keep the city clean.
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    Thomas Oriental runs a workshop in Jacmel that sells traditional papier-mache voodoo masks. He lost much of his merchandise when his shop was damaged in the earthquake. He now lives in a tent in the parking lot of what used to be the Agriculture Ministry.
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    Edo Zenny, mayor of Jacmel, says things have improved to a point where he feels comfortable asking Port-au-Prince refugees to go home. Pictured here is an Edo Zenny bike. The mayor controls the motorcycles that are imported to Jacmel; hence the bike's name.
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    A beach umbrella and folding chair serve as a temporary guard shack in Leogane. The city is 18 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the quake. Most of the city was destroyed.
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    A man walks past the site of a former government office building. Demolition crews are slowly clearing away the rubble in the city of Leogane.
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    Engineers and construction workers walk past a photo of prefabricated housing units that are being built for the people of Leogane.
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    Haitians ride past one of the prefabricated houses under construction in Leogane. The houses are a temporary solution to the long-term problem of rebuilding in Haiti.
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    Dale Lawson is the heavy equipment manager for a demolition crew. He oversees several teams under contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to clear rubble in the city of Leogane.
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    Haitians clear rubble in the city of Leogane. USAID and other aid agencies hope to get locals involved in the rebuilding process.

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Haiti's recovery from the devastating January earthquake is proceeding slowly. Aid workers and government officials say it's clear that some of the almost 2 million people displaced by the quake will be living in "temporary" shelters for another year or more.

Outside the capital, the recovery is progressing faster, but the task ahead remains huge.

The southern city of Jacmel shook violently on Jan. 12. The quake completely destroyed parts of the city, while other areas suffered damage to 20 to 30 percent of the buildings.

The quake's impact is still visible. At one gas station, the torn-apart cement awning leans ominously over the pumps. Cracked, abandoned buildings are all over Jacmel.

But crews have cleared most of the rubble out of the city's streets. Scooter taxis buzz busily around town. Shops have reopened. Old ladies sweep the pavement in front of their modest homes.

Slow But Palpable Progress

Thomas Oriental runs a workshop that sells traditional papier-mache voodoo masks.

"I've been badly affected. I lost my mother, my wife and a niece. I'm very traumatized, and at night if I don't drink, I can't sleep," he says.

Oriental's shop also partially collapsed, and he lost much of his merchandise. He now lives in a tent in the parking lot of what used to be the Agriculture Ministry.

Haitians help remove rubble in the coastal city of Leogane i i

The U.S. Agency for International Development has contracted with relief groups to hire Haitians to clear rubble in the coastal city of Leogane. They also hope to get locals involved in the rebuilding process. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Haitians help remove rubble in the coastal city of Leogane

The U.S. Agency for International Development has contracted with relief groups to hire Haitians to clear rubble in the coastal city of Leogane. They also hope to get locals involved in the rebuilding process.

David Gilkey/NPR

Oriental is frustrated with the slow pace of recovery, but he says that things are improving in Jacmel.

The road has reopened between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Some tourists — mainly foreign aid workers and missionaries — have started to return. At least there is some business, he says.

Jacmel's mayor, Edo Zenny, says things have improved so much that he's asking all the refugees from Port-au-Prince to go home.

Zenny says the main problem now in his city is the garbage from the people who fled from Port-au-Prince after the quake. Most are still living in the streets. He says the people from the capital dump trash at the curbs, and it's become impossible to keep the city clean.

In a public speech a few days earlier, Zenny declared that all these outsiders should go home.

"The majority of them are still here. We can't push them out. But we are going to find a way to be a nuisance to them so they leave," the mayor said.

Two months ago, he wouldn't have made such a demand. In a way, his statement shows how this crisis is evolving, and how Haiti is moving toward something like normal.

Demolition Needs Still Great

Across the quake-ravaged parts of Haiti, one of the main challenges is still the demolition of buildings. Demolition crews are in high demand.

Dale Lawson is the heavy equipment manager for CHF in Haiti. Despite being ex-Canadian army, he is wearing a U.S. Marines T-shirt.

Lawson oversees several crews that are under contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to clear rubble in the coastal city of Leogane.

Walking through the valleys of debris of what used to be the main street, Lawson says the whole area needs to be demolished.

"You can't move forward when your place looks like this. ... There's no way," he says.

Leogane, which lies 18 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, was at the epicenter of the quake. Most of the city was destroyed.

Backhoes Like Bugs

Watching a yellow Caterpillar scramble over a pile of shattered concrete that used to be a school, Lawson says his teams can remove a five-story building in about a day and a half. Caterpillar excavators on steel treads are their main demolition tool.

In April, CHF demolished 30 schools in Leogane in less than three weeks. Lawson has trained Haitians to run the excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks. And he says he'd clear even more buildings if he could just get more heavy equipment.

"We are not getting equipment the way we should. There should be a lot more equipment in here," Lawson says.

In the capital, demolition crews are also constantly clearing the rubble. Bulldozers knock down a school here, a bank there. The French military has heavy equipment rumbling throughout downtown Port-au-Prince.

But the task of rubble removal in the capital is so large that the backhoes are like bugs tearing at a giant crumpled sand castle. They clear a plot, but they're still dwarfed by the wreckage around them.

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