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Haiti's Ground Zero - Leogane

Haiti's Ground Zero - Leogane

Dr. Adam Koons is a member of Temple Emanuel, Kensington, MD and Director of Relief & Humanitarian Assistance of International Relief & Development. Dr. Koons' blog posts from Haiti were originally posted on the IRD blog. Visit Voices from the Field to read earlier posts.

Today we traveled outside of Port-au-Prince and into ground zero.
The town, and district, of Leogane, with about 150,000 residents was
closest to the earthquake's epi-center. And it showed. Although,
estimates we had heard of 90% destruction were easily visible, the
mayor told us that 100% of the population were affected, since even
those few whose homes were not destroyed were afraid to enter their
still standing and damaged houses. The entire population was sleeping
outside, in makeshift shelters of plastic and cloth, in spontaneous
settlements within and outside the town center. The police were sitting
outside of a damaged police station. When we found the mayor he was
camped outside his broken house. Our visit was a "rapid assessment" to
understand the emergency needs, gaps, and the types of activities that
IRD would be best suited to provide. The mayor, in short, told us they
need virtually everything because the population had lost virtually
everything.

Leogane.jpg

In one settlement we visited of around 230 families we met a group
of young men who immediately approached our vehicle when we arrived.
They explained that they were the self-appointed, volunteer, security
committee, formed because even in such areas insecurity and theft are a
huge problem and far beyond the capacity of the local police. Both the
desperation of the population, which has caused mass looting and crime,
and the escape of an estimated 4000 prisoners from the
earthquake-damaged central prison, has made such community protection a
necessity. It was a perfect opportunity for our IRD team to hand out a
number of the wonderful solar charged Sunlight Solar Bogo-Light
flashlights we were carrying just for such occasions. The flashlights
will improve the group's ability to patrol at night and thereby the
settlement's security. By working closely with the maker of the lights,
that were donated, we ultimately hope to distribute thousands of them
soon.

Another settlement we visited completely filled the town football
stadium with tiny shelter built shoulder to shoulder. We met a few
young men who were making wooden frames for additional shelters. They
told us they were salvaging the materials from the destroyed homes in
town.  And amidst it all, we found children playing, as we often do ...
and of course, begging us to take their picture, which, of course, we
did. One young boy of about five had a home-made kite of salvaged
plastic and recovered string. His kite was aloft about 500!

On the way back to Port-au-Prince, after passing a US Marine
helicopter landing site and encampment (the helicopters had been
passing low and loud overhead all day), we got another sense of the
force that leveled an entire town. We came upon a mile long crevasse
in the side of the highway that we estimated to be maybe 15 feet deep. 

We have chosen Leogane as one of the primary IRD disaster response
sites for our activities that we hope will include water repair,
sanitation and latrines, shelter, and perhaps agriculture.  So, we will
return soon.

Published: 1/27/2010

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