Port Au Prince, Haiti, January 14, 2010.
An earthquake of 7.0 Magnitude struck at a depth of 13km and a distance of 25 km WSW from the capital Port Au Prince, Haiti, at 16:53 on January, 12th, 2010. Located on the western part of Hispaniola an island in the Greater Antilles; situated between Puerto Rico to the south east and Cuba in the north west, the flight time from Miami is 1 hour 20 minutes.
We were only into the first fortnight of the new year and this huge earthquake had just struck Haiti, the disaster scramble had started. It was my role to get there as fast as possible, set up a safe base of operations for a three man team and assess the damage, report back to headquarters enabling them to supply the necessary aid for the people affected in Haiti.
I had a semi-autonomous role as a field operations specialist, being first on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the disaster; you see what it's really like and what's most needed first hand. The capital had all but collapsed along with the government, presidential palace and the main prison along with 4,500 inmates, who were now on the loose. More than 200,000 people were killed, and another 1.5 million were made homeless in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Haiti had never been the safest country in the world by any means and this situation was probably the worst case scenario I could ever have imagined.
We drove around the barrios, gangs had barricaded up most of the streets, some carried shotguns or semi-automatics. They wore Nike gear and looked clean, organized and hard as nails, there was no messing around in Haiti. The Barrio boys knew the Musician Theo who was showing us around, we were waved through the blockaded areas. Entire streets were destroyed and buildings had collapsed, there was some looting going on but not as widespread as it was reported in the media. There were bodies covered in corrugated iron, people were lifting up the sheets to see who was underneath. Gangs were patrolling the areas because there was no police or UN Peacekeepers in sight, it was totally lawless.
Telegraph poles had collapsed and live power cables were smoldering, burst water mains gushed water all over the dusty streets. The smell of rotting food mixed with burning rubber and dust was heavy in the air. I put my kaffiyya around my face but it did not hide the smell and the more we drove through the streets the hotter and dustier it became. All I wanted was cold water to drink. After seeing so much destruction I asked Theo to take Eby and I to the hospital and assess what the situation was like there. We drove through the city which was littered with more bodies, the stench was wretched.
We arrived at the General hospital and walked up to the main building. I could see people sitting under plastic bags with horrendous wounds, waiting silently for help wearing makeshift bandages on serious head wounds, the smell of the antiseptic made me feel sick and faint. I noticed two men carrying a woman in a wheelbarrow, she was bleeding profoundly. There were patients lying on the bare concrete floor, too weak to get up as their injuries were so bad, staring into oblivion. They were at deaths door, the dying lay all around us. A teenage girl had her head bandaged staring into space. A father sat holding his child's hand, he was sweating looking on in total shock trying to make a call on his mobile outside the main operating theatre, they sat there helpless in the shade of the hospital wall on the burning-hot concrete floor.
Further on I saw hundreds of corpses being piled on top of one another, black with rigamortis, there were babies, women and men. I lit a cigarette, thinking it would disguise the smell but that didn’t work. I could smell death everywhere. Two Haitian stretcher bearers were using a wheelbarrow to put the bodies onto the already massive piles of corpses. I saw camera operators crouching down amongst the pile of bodies trying to get good angles of it. I stayed back about 20 meters and watched with absolute horror and shock at the scene before me. The Haitians were queuing up outside to take more bodies in, probably thinking the doctors who were already at their limit could perform a miracle of their dying or already dead relatives. Theo, at that point had seen enough so we left. It was eerily quiet in the 4x4, no one said a word.