A Reporter Breathes A Sigh Of Relief For Haiti

A man walks past a refugee camp

hide captionMore than 1 million of Haiti's quake survivors still live under tarps and tents. American Red Cross relief coordinator Steve McAndrew says the island got "very lucky.''

Logan Abassi/AFP/Getty Images
Girls play as they walk along a flooded road i i

hide captionHaitians walk along a flooded road in Leogane, just south of Port-au-Prince, on Saturday.

Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images
Girls play as they walk along a flooded road

Haitians walk along a flooded road in Leogane, just south of Port-au-Prince, on Saturday.

Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images

At a camp in downtown Port-au-Prince, a girl of about 5 or 6 years old was leaning against her father.  The two of them were framed in the tarp doorway of their shelter.  The sky was overcast, but there was no immediate sign of the impending storm.

The radio in our car was blaring warnings about the "cyclone" that was bearing down on the island.  The radio announcer was breathlessly warning people to seek shelter. The girl and her father were calm. She leaned against him with that sense of security that children exude after a fright: Everything's alright now. I'm here with my daddy.

And at that moment I felt terrified that Hurricane Tomas was going to tear apart that girl's shack and the dozens of other makeshift shelters behind it.  I had a vision of tarps and tents flying through the air.

Heard On 'Weekend Edition'

NPR's Jason Beaubien tells host Scott Simon how Hurricane Tomas damaged the western coast of Haiti but spared the nation's capital.

Sometimes as a reporter, you show up somewhere and you're excited to cover a big story. But in that moment I didn't want a story.

I crossed my fingers that Tomas would stay out at sea.

I've covered hurricanes.  I've covered tropical storms.  I've seen the power of those winds. A tropical storm can tear apart steel billboard frames, topple trees, rip roofs off buildings. Even a mild tropical storm hitting the camps of Port au Prince would be a bloodbath.

Corrugated metal sheeting and chunks of rubble used to hold down tarps would be turned into projectiles. That little girl would probably be flying through the air.

And the only thing that kept that fate from befalling the Haitian capital this week was that this hurricane happened to stay away from Port-au-Prince.

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