Haitians On The Margins Make Home On A Highway Across Haiti's capital, hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims are living in camps. For the residents of one makeshift settlement, the greatest threat is traffic. More than 1,000 people are living on an 8-foot-wide stretch of highway median south of Port-au-Prince.
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Haitians On The Margins Make Home On A Highway

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Haitians On The Margins Make Home On A Highway

Haitians On The Margins Make Home On A Highway

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Let's run down some of the hazards for the hundreds of thousands of people who are still in makeshift camps, many months after the earthquake in Haiti. Some people are in camps that are at risk of flooding; others are threatened by landslides, and of course, some could be breeding grounds for disease. And then there's the traffic, as NPR's Jason Beaubien found.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Heading south out of Port-au-Prince, just over a thousand people are living on an eight-foot-wide stretch of median in the middle of a torn-up six-lane road. Motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks whiz by on either side of the shacks. And some of the shacks are made only of bed sheets wrapped around sticks with tarps stuck on top.

Mr. LOFREDO GUERRIER: Basically, when it rains, we can't sleep here and a lot of people got kids, little babies. It's impossible for us to sleep out here.

BEAUBIEN: Lofredo Guerrier went to high school in Boston but now he lives in one of the shacks in the middle of this road. The median is just wide enough for a single structure, just wide enough for a mattress. We couldn't 326 shelters in one long, thin line.

Mr. GUERRIER: The environment for the kids is not good. You see what I'm telling? Look how people are living. You know what I'm saying? You see how I'm walking through, all the cars just going out there real fast. So, basically, (unintelligible) very dangerous, man.

BEAUBIEN: The shacks open straight into the traffic. Residents say several people have already been hit by speeding vehicles. There's no electricity, no running water. Women lug buckets of water from a nearby market. They bathe their children and cook over open fires at the curb with cars passing just a foot away. The air is laden with thick black exhaust and it reeks of sewage.

Guerrier points across three lanes of traffic to a block of portable toilets.

Mr. GUERRIER: It's ridiculous, and when that's filled out, ain't nowhere else to use the bathroom. After when this is full, we're done.

BEAUBIEN: Everyone here lost their homes in the January 12th quake. Some people have more elaborate shacks than others. Some are made of wood with doors on hinges and windows that open. Others are crude boxes of sheet metal. The simplest are just tarps.

Forty-one-year-old Rosemene Jean lives with her husband and her sister in a shelter of plastic sheeting held up by boards.

Ms. ROSEMENE JEAN: (Through translator) What's hardest here is that we have nowhere to go. We've got to be here. And every night when we go to bed, we put our knees on the floor, lift our hands up to God and say, God, we are in your hands because we have no other protection.

BEAUBIEN: Jean says she'd like to move into one of the new planned camps that are being erected by the government and international aid agencies, but she hears that they're all full.

One of the reasons people settled in the median because it's a no man's land that doesn't belong to anyone. Even as people say they want to leave, many residents are also putting down roots. A woman in one shack sells candies, cookies and rice from her front window; another hawks charcoal.

Some young men have opened a rudimentary bar. All they serve is a potent moonshine called clairin from battered plastic jugs. And across the traffic, next to the port-a-potties, there's a shed where, for 25 cents, you can watch movies and the latest European soccer matches.

People want to move out of the middle of the road but they also recognize that that might not happen for quite some time.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

INSKEEP: If you want to see what life on a highway median looks like, you can go to our website, NPR.org. Get a look at some photographs - a gallery of photos, in fact - by NPR's David Gilkey. You'll also find much more on Haiti after the quake.

You can follow this program many ways online. For example, you can follow us on Twitter at MorningEdition, or you can find me at NPRInskeep. Yes, an opportunity to find out how to spell my name: I-N-S-K-E-E-P. You can also follow this program on Facebook.

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