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Authorities in Haiti are making painful decisions. They're making choices about who gets assistance first after a hurricane. The United Nations says 1.4 million people need help. Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Port-Salut on Haiti's south coast.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: The Dumont section of Port-Salut is spread over rolling, green hills that used to be rich with coconut, mango and banana trees, but hurricane Matthew toppled most of those trees. It also tore apart the simple cement and sheet metal houses in the area. Emmanuello Charlien is part of a team trying to tally the damage of Matthew here. Walking through a dirt road strewn with palm fronds, he points out a pile of metal that used to be a cellphone tower.
EMMANUELLO CHARLIEN: (Through interpreter) Natcom, which is a cellphone company, used to have a tower right there, and the tower fell on someone's house. And it even, like, set a fire right after this.
BEAUBIEN: Charlien cuts off the main road onto a small path. Trunks of fallen palm trees block the trail, and he has to scramble up and over them. He walks up to a pile of smashed cement with a few timbers sticking out of it.
CHARLIEN: So this is a destroyed hose. This is another one. And they've built a shelter here to stay. You can see.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Using, like, the palm - palm leaves. They just use, like, some of the material from the existing house and build the shelter.
BEAUBIEN: Charlien is 1 of about 200 volunteers who've been pulled together by the mayor's office to conduct this census of the destruction across Port-Salut.
CHARLIEN: (Through interpreter) So the investigation focus is really on how many houses are totally down and how many of them, like, can be fixed.
BEAUBIEN: In this section of the municipality, there are supposed to be 350 houses, and so far this crew of volunteers has only found three that survived the hurricane intact. Charlien is a 23-year-old law student at the university in Port-Salut. He says this survey should help the local authorities decide where to first distribute food and water.
And longer term, it should help officials figure out how to rebuild this community. Given that most of the people here simply don't have the resources to rebuild on their own, Charlien says the money for reconstruction is going to have to come either from the national government or abroad.
CHARLIEN: (Through interpreter) It happens that the Haitian government have, like, the goodwill to help its people, but between, like, the means and the actual resources, like, to make it happen, that's two different stories.
BEAUBIEN: The mayor of Port-Salut, Wilson Dena Marie, agrees that there's no way these communities can rebuild quickly on their own, but he doesn't want to see a repeat of the international relief effort that followed the 2010 earthquake. He says non-governmental agencies or NGOs came in and distributed whatever they wanted, built whatever they pleased, regardless of whether it was what the local community really needed. The mayor says it has to be different this time.
WILSON DENA MARIE: (Through interpreter) Everything has to go to the municipality because if you, as an NGO, just show up, like, with aid and start, like, giving it away, you might not find ways, like, to address the people who would need the aid the most.
BEAUBIEN: He wants to build entirely new villages with piped water, sewers and electricity for everyone. But in the short term, the mayor says, his biggest challenge is getting clean water for residents right now. A lot of people currently are getting their water from rivers and streams. There's only one road through the hurricane destruction to Port-Salut. The mayor recently tried to ship in a truckload of water, but it was looted.
MARIE: (Through interpreter) But it's been attacked, and people have just got, like, all the water on the way. And I didn't get a chance, like, to bring the water to Port-Salut.
BEAUBIEN: So while he's trying to figure out how best to get aid to his people and while the mayor has grand visions for what he'd like to see his city look like in the future, the challenges of carrying those out remain huge. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-Salut.
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