Yesterday, I went ashore for the first time since we arrived a couple of weeks ago (well, actually, I did go ashore one time earlier, but it was for only a second). I will start this blog post by stating what became an epiphany for me from yesterday's trip: Nothing you or I have seen, nothing you or I have heard, can prepare you for the overwhelming emenseness of this tragedy. Take every picture, every sight, every sound, every word that you have seen, heard or read about this disaster, put them all together and multiply them by a million, and you wouldn't begin to appreciate the scope of the destruction in Port-au-Prince.
As we pulled into the downtown port, the damage was evident. Two large cranes, used to offload container ships were collapsed into the water. I can't tell for sure, but it looks like they were standing on a pier that entirely collapsed into the water, leaving the cranes leaning dangerously over the harbor.
While I could see the collapsed neighborhoods on the hills surrounding the city's plains, I didn't get a chance to go up there. There were a number of buildings that I saw that were completely collapsed, but most of the structures in the lower part of the city, while often damaged, have not completely collapsed. Lots of rubble, lots of broken walls, lots of parts of buildings collapsed, but not the dramatic pancaked buildings that are common in other parts of the city.
But what I did see was mile, after mile, after mile of makeshift tent cities with thousands upon thousands of people milling about with no electricity, no sanitation, no running water, spending every waking hour struggling to scavenge or find enough food and water to keep themselves and their families alive.
But at the same time, there is evidence that the city is reawakening from this nightmare. Traffic, unlike just about anywhere else in the world, is beginning to return to it's normal, hyper-chaotic, "he who gets his front bumper into a space first has the right of way," jumble of vehicles all pushing their way through a turnstile at the same time. Motorcycles and scooters swarm between vehicles in what can only be described as a death wish. But amazingly, with almost two hours of travel in a bus through this environment, not one scratch, not one nick, not one bumped mirror, even with big Mac trucks and tanker trucks squeezing their way along a road built for two lanes of traffic with at least four lanes of vehicles pushing their way along.
Trash is everywhere, along with the rubble, but that's not a lot different from what the place was like last April when we were here. And maybe we were just lucky, but we didn't smell much in the way of decomposition, other than rotting vegetables and the dusty, dirty smell that again was not much different from the pre-quake Port-au-Prince.
But amongst all of that, the people demonstrate the resiliance for which they have become famous. People are generally wearing clean clothes, and are moderately clean. Children are cared for, and people have taken their situations into their own hands and have produced thousands and thousands of shelters from every kind of fabric, tarp, or piece of sheet metal that they could find. Of course, these will be precious little defense against the rains that are only a few weeks away, but they do shelter them from the sun, and if the earth moves again, they won't have to worry about slabs of concrete crushing them to death.
Our mission yesterday was to visit the St. Damien's Orphanage and hospital located only a few hundred yards from the American Embassy. St. Damien's is actually a fine hospital and facility that is well maintained and almost an oasis within the desert of beauty that is Port-au-Prince. St. Damien's has a dedicated medical staff and they are doing everything they can to take care of as many of the injured as possible. We took them some much needed medical supplies to help them care for the 25 recovering patients of ours that they have graciously agreed to help nurse back to health. We also took some cots that we put together and placed in some large tents that they have set up as additional wards in front of the hospital.
Well, I need to run and get back to work, so I'll just say goodbye for now. Keep praying for the people of Haiti. This disaster will soon leave your TV's, but it won't leave Haiti for many years.