HAITI SLOWLY MOVING FORWARD
BUT THERE'S STILL FAR TO GO AFTER THE QUAKE
BY RACHEL REVEHLGANNETT NEWSPAPERS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Francois Ebain has been gathering scraps of wood, sheets of aluminum and strips of tarp -- whatever he can find. He has begun building a home for his family on a patch of land on a roadside in Port-au-Prince.
"I didn't want to sleep on the streets anymore," Ebain said.
Like thousands of Haitians, his brick house was leveled by the earthquake Jan. 12.
One month later, with the Haitian government still reeling, Ebain's effort is one of the signs of the resilience of the people in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
The streets have been cleared of thousands of corpses -- though thousands more remain buried in rubble. The smell of death that permeated the city in the first week has mostly dissipated.
The long haul ahead
It may be at least two years before all the debris is removed, Haitian officials said. Heavy machinery is sparse. Long term, there will be need to build infrastructure -- streets, water and sewerage pipes and electrical lines.
"A morgue" is how Victoria Doret describes one of the two homes she used to rent out. Two children and a maid are still beneath the rubble.
"And this government don't speak of that," Doret said, beginning to sob. "They are doing nothing for us."
Water trucks regularly circle the city, but many say it is not the dire problem it was right after the quake.
Lack of food, though, is still a concern.
Women begin waiting in line at 3 a.m. at distribution sites. Some men are frustrated after the government began giving vouchers to only women, reasoning that with men involved, the shoving became almost riotous.
"Many of the men, they have wives who died or are out in the countryside," said Audrice St. Elus. "Some of these women are getting bags of rice at three or four locations, and then they turn around and sell it."
Aid workers dwindle
Aid workers from the U.S., France and a few other countries continue to be a presence, though there are fewer than immediately after the quake.
In the villages and cities outside of Port-au-Prince, scant resources are being taxed with a surge of refugees -- an estimated 500,000.
In the coastal city of Les Cayes, the United Nations estimates there are nearly 2,000 refugees entering each day.
Commerce in Port-au-Prince is slowly resuming.
People pack the markets, where most goods are available again. Prices are soaring.
At MacEpi restaurant in Petionville, Mariette Elie Joseph helps her son sell egg sandwiches and soft drinks. She said the price of vegetables has shot up 300%, but she refuses to raise her fees.
"Now is not the time to be thinking of making a profit," Joseph said. "Now is the time to think of how we can help people."
Communication lines are improving, though connections are spotty. One of the biggest issues is lack of electricity.
Woodiy Lucieux, 25, sells power from his small generator hooked to a tangle of cell phone chords. He charges 50 cents to 75 cents for people to charge their phones.
"Sometimes people have to dial over and over, but it eventually goes through," Lucieux said.
The USNS Comfort, anchored several miles offshore, has cared for 863 patients as of Wednesday. Now, the numbers are tapering off.
On Friday, the one-month anniversary, tens of thousands of Haitians gathered near the presidential palace to pray.
Amid tears and hugs, they sang songs of thanks to God for sparing their lives.
"It is by the grace of God we are still alive," said 40-year-old Venite Constant, who lost a sister, a brother and several friends.
"And it is by the grace of God we will become a better nation."