Every now and then, life hands you a chance to make a difference. I am fortunate to be in the right place at the right time I used to run the Pan American Development's Haiti disaster program before I moved to the Dominican Republic to run the border program. Therefore, when the earthquake hit, I was already in place to respond. With all telephone communication cut off in Haiti, we had no idea what had happened to our staff. Wednesday morning, I was able to get some cash and supplies together and drove from Santo Domingo to Haiti.
It is a seven hour drive and I spent the whole drive talking on the phone and getting updates on the situation. We received a message from our office that our staff was safe, but we were unable to talk directly with anyone. I crossed the border around 6pm and made to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince around 7pm. As I drove into town, I began seeing the first impacts--a cinder block wall that fell here or a damaged wall there. A bit further in, I saw whole walls down, then began seeing collapsed roofs. We made it to our safe house around 7:30pm and settled in for the night.
Everyone in the area was still very shaken. Even though the house was completely intact, the Haitians were sleeping outside in fear of another quake. During the night I felt two strong aftershocks.
In the morning, we headed into town. The damage was amazing. I didn't go near the epicenter, but the damage was everywhere. Many of the buildings that were damaged had been badly built, but others seemed quite solid. We touched base with the Direction de Protection Civile (the Haitian government agency charged with managing the disaster). They had no resources and were beyond swamped. We found some of our staff and began organizing our office again. By this point, I had distributed all of the resources that I had brought and used up a third a tank of gas--their is little fuel available and I knew I could not run out. With no means of communication, I headed back to the Dominican Republic to get more supplies and to get back in touch with my Dominican and Washington offices.It is a crazy time. We are getting lots of support (www.panamericanrelief.org) both in cash and in supplies. However logistics are such a mess that it is hard to do much. Tomorrow I hope to get our office in Haiti up and running to make it easier to provide supplies. There is so much to be done that the little that we can do seems insignificant. Yet, everyone needs to do their part.
I try to avoid thinking of reconstruction. So little was done after the four hurricanes hit Haiti in 2007. So little was done after the hurricane hit Gonaives in 2005. How will Haiti ever get back on its feet.