The overwhelming devastation of downtown Port-au-Prince

The same day we went to Erta's college, we also drove past the palace and through downtown Port-au-Prince. I had followed coverage of the earthquake on CNN pretty closely before I came here, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw... and smelled. My camera battery died as we entered downtown, so I will post one photo that gives you a feel for the place. But photos cannot tell the story there.

Downtown consists of larger buildings, typically three to five stories tall. Well, they used to be that. I would estimate that 80% of the buildings in that area are either all the way crumbled or badly damaged. For about a square mile or two, every street is a surreal jumble of vast piles of rubble and buildings tilted at crazy angles. And this is the cleaned up version of downtown. Captain Mike Anderson of the 82nd Airborne said that three weeks ago, you couldn't even drive through that area because the rubble was strewn through the streets.

The other thing that was overwhelming about downtown was the smell -- an acrid blend of rotting garbage and decomposing human flesh.

When we drove through downtown, the place was congested with people. It seems absurd that so many people would be selling wares in an area that looks like a war zone and feels like a giant tomb. But life must go on.

We drove very slowly because we had to. Every time we inched our way through an intersection, I looked to the right and the left, and each street was the same. It looked like a bomb has gone off there. Actually, many Haitians believe they were bombed. Seeing that mess, I can understand why.

Haitians wonder what will become of their country. Driving through downtown helped me understand why.


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