Sunday, January 31, 2010

NOW, ONLY THE SKY CAN FALL


January 30, 2010
Leogane, Haiti

Today, we visited Leogane.  The 7.0 earthquake that brought down 30% of the homes and buildings in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 was centered near Leogane, about 30 miles west of the port.  Leogane did not fare nearly as well as Port-au-Prince.  Here, 90% or more of all structures collapsed.  Driving through the town on National Road 2, I am reminded of pictures of bombed-out towns at the end of World War II.

Buildings with more than one story are pancaked.  Walls of single-story structures are toppled inward or outward.  Around each collapsed building rubble piles high.  Steel beams, aluminum strips and rebar protrude upward in every direction.  A team of explosive experts could not have done a more thorough job.

In front of and beside crumbled houses--surreally--new structures have been erected.  This post-modern architecture features hastily-cut wood-pole frames covered with a patchwork of tarp and canvass.  These huts mix in with a smattering of manufactured tents—Coleman, Timberline, Wal-Mart.  They form groups of four or five, or ten or fifteen, or 200 or 250 on open spaces along the roadway through whole stretch of town.

As with every other area near Port-au-Prince since the temblor, it seems like everyone is outside.  No one here trusts a roof.  No one believes in the power of a concrete city anymore.

It was buildings that fell on so many of their loved ones and neighbors and injured or killed them.  It was concrete enclaves—so sturdy to withstand hurricane after hurricane—that trapped them alive.  It was these structures with wrought-iron grating on every window and door, surrounded by high walls topped with razor ribbon and locked gates that utterly failed to secure.  A roof over one’s head—every person’s basic symbol of safety and security—became the crusher of life.

Now, at least for now, the only safe place is outside the buildings that remain.  Now, only the sky can fall.

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