Posts Tagged ‘Rubble’


…it’s also the percentage of rubble that’s been cleared out of Port-au-Prince after the earthquake!  Now, I don’t need to remind you why this is a problem (if the rubble is still there, there are no new houses [temporary or otherwise]; and if there are no new houses, the tent cities will be here forever), but I just did anyways.

I was talking to a member of the NGO community earlier this week about why rubble removal was taking so long, and he explained that for many NGOs who are building transitional shelters, rubble removal just isn’t a priority. “We’ve really started to figure out that building transitional shelters and removing rubble is very interconnected,” he said, as if this was a revelation that could possibly impress a cynic.  I wanted to bonk him on the head and say, “No s#@t!”  Coming to that conclusion now is like realizing that you had to clear trees to build a road over the Appalachian mountains…9 months after you started.


And while a lot of rubble has been cleared away, the city is still sprawling with collapsed buildings that don’t appear to be going anywhere.  According to an AP wire, some estimate that there is 33 million cubic yards of rubble just waiting for someone to throw it into the side of the road and cause a traffic jam.  That’s enough concrete to build seven (7!) Hoover Dams.

Now the reason why this is taking so long is obviously complicated, but if everyone was putting as much focus on moving this rubble as they are on, well, everything else, maybe we would start to see some progress.  In many situations the rubble is hard to get to, and can only be cleared by hand, bucket by bucket.  That takes forever, especially at the pace that $5 a day earns you.  But even in places where there is room to bring in the heavy machinery, it’s just super dangerous.  The buildings in the two pictures above will not be easy to take down, and because the machinery is hard to come by building owners usually hire local workers to just smash them down with sledgehammers.  After a month or two that works, but at that pace we’ll be here for decades.

Anyways…I could go on about this for hours, but I won’t bore you.  If you’re interested in reading more about the complexities of rubble removal in Haiti, you can click on these words, and it will take you to an AP article about it.


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*Car may have been crushed in the earthquake…

If you’re looking to buy a car in Haiti and need a beautiful new (looking) SUV, then look no further!!!  Above is Jillian’s old co-worker, Dom, and his Mitsubishi Montero, which he was given recently by Jillian’s old organization because it had been damaged in the earthquake.  The car looks great, as he’s made some major improvements that make it look nothing like what it looked like before.  He’s debating on selling the car to make some money, considering all NGOs in Haiti want to do is buy more and more huge SUVs to stamp their logos on.  But, let me tell you, buying a used car in Haiti is shady business.

Jillian and I earnestly attempted to buy a car here for about 2 months before throwing up our hands and surrendering to the motorcycle that we already had.  Every car that we test drove either felt like you were constantly driving over dead bodies, or was given terrible terrible reviews by the mechanic we would check them with.  “You’re going to need new gaskets…and probably a new radiator,” he explained of one car, “So if you do that and fix the wheel alignment and the brakes this car is perfect!”  HUH?!  No car is perfect if that much work has to be done on it!  After about half a dozen of these we gave up.

But you often wonder where they are getting these cars, and why it appears they decided to sell a car that drives like they’ve been commuting to Miami every day…underwater.  We would try to find cars that had come directly off the boat from the States so that we wouldn’t have to deal with cars that had been ruined by driving on the terrible roads in Haiti.  And it’s possible, but they’re hard to find.  When used car salesmen in the U.S. have a car that they can’t find a buyer for, or that is just illegal to drive because of its poor condition, they ship them off to countries like Haiti where there are no emissions laws and the standards are low.

But sometimes you find a gem like Dom’s car, and you just want to snatch it up right away.  The only thing is, it used to look like this…

Car under Rubble

I took this screen grab from the video I took of the house Jillian and I were living in before the earthquake.  That’s right, it’s the same exact car, just fixed up a bit.  The keys were in a safe that had shot out of the house when it collapsed, and once the staff got around to breaking off the concrete roof above it, they drove it home.  Yes, the car still drove.

So when Dom drove it to our house recently when we had him over for dinner, it was kind of like seeing a ghost.  Of all the things that had been lost in that house, this car was probably one of the last things that I expected to be recovered.  Yet here it was, in pretty much new condition, the only sign that it had been completely flattened in the earthquake was a scratch on the door handle.

So let this be a lesson to all of you buying used cars…get a Carfax on that junker ASAP.  And while I’m pretty sure that the tiny mishap that you see above probably wont show up on a Carfax, I’m hoping that the buyer of this car knows full well what they are getting themselves into.  “Has the car ever been in an accident?” you ask?  Well, no, it hasn’t.  The earthquake was no accident at all, it was just God’s way of testing all those people whose cars were crushed to see if they’ll be honest to the people who want to buy them.  Tell the truth and you go to heaven, forget to mention that the car was practically totaled in the quake and you’ll be a used car salesman in “the other place” for the rest of eternity.  The decision is yours…

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The 6-month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti has come and gone, and after heavy media coverage and a slew of government events, the Haitian people have been reminded, yet again, that their situation sucks and nothing has really improved.  I’ve been trying to think about how to sum up the events of the past 6 months for a while now, considering we all knew it was coming weeks before the day arrived, and it’s still hard to comprehend.  Just over 6 months ago the earthquake in Haiti destroyed over 180,000 homes, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and left millions homeless.  Unfortunately none of those things have changed.


When Jillian and I returned to the States after the earthquake tons of people asked how long it would take to recover.  “Months? Years?” they would ask.  The answer was always a disappointing one, “More, probably decades,” we would say.  Haiti was already a place that seemed without hope, and now it appears to be almost irreparably damaged.  The infrastructure that was already sorely lacking has been torn to shreds, and the poor have just become poorer (and homeless).

With the help of tons of international money, work has begun trying to pick up the shattered pieces of an already broken country, but there are so many compounding issues that stand in the way.  Both the Haitian people and the NGOs have desperately waited for some sense of leadership from the government here, but let’s be honest, there is not a single person in this entire world who could single-handedly grasp the enormity of the issues that now face this country.  Elections are scheduled for November, but who would want to be the President of a country that has hit absolute rock bottom.


So like I said before, there are a bunch of issues to deal with, none have just one quick-fix, and they all depend on each other in one way or another.  Let’s start with the tent cities:  1.5 million people are still living in spontaneous camps throughout the country, left homeless after their houses were damaged or destroyed.  Just after the earthquake the heat was on to get them into shelters before the rainy season, and while NGOs earnestly worked to achieve this goal it was quickly realized that moving that many people, and building that many homes, was impossible in just a matter of months.  The rainy season has been upon us for months, hurricane season starts in earnest soon, and both the Haitian people and the NGOs have now admitted that the tent cities will be here for years.


But part of the hang up is there is just no place to build the homes.  Land-rights issues have slowed an already sluggish process, and with no one knowing who owns what, the building of transitional homes has been slow in coming.  Of the 125,000 transitional shelters planned, just under 4,000 have been built.  These shelters are produced to only last between 2-5 years, leaving the looming question of what happens next?  Supplies to build these houses is tough to come by, and shipping containers filled with the necessary tools to do the job sit stuck at customs, waiting for a simple signature that may take months to obtain.


But even if you have the supplies, and you know who owns the land, it might be impossible to build simply because the rubble of the house that stood there before has not been removed.  As you already know, Cash for Work programs (like the one Jillian is managing) are working everyday to clear the rubble that fills the streets and neighborhoods throughout the country.  The problem?  There is too much rubble, and not enough resources to move it.


One estimate says it could take 1,000 trucks 1,000 days to move all the rubble out of PAP.  That’s over 3 years, just to move the rubble.  But yet another problem jumps out, as there are just over 300 dump trucks operating in the capital doing this work.  You can do the math, but I went ahead and did it for you: at this pace it will take over a decade to move all the rubble out of the city.  If the rubble is still there, there are no transitional homes, and if there are no homes then people aren’t moving out of the tent cities.


Even though I’ve painted a pretty dismal picture, there are some bright spots.  80% of the schools in PAP were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, but since then they have reopened 80% of those affected.  That’s a huge accomplishment in just six months.  While over 50% of the children in Haiti still don’t go to school, I think we can all agree that education is key to a proper recovery, so getting those kids back in the classroom helps immensely.  Also, because of a huge push to vaccinate Haitians, and particularly children, from infectious diseases right after the earthquake, there has yet to be an outbreak.  This is great news considering that if just one family catches something bad in a tent city, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the tightly packed families around them to catch it too.


So we are left here, 6 months after the earthquake, with little progress.  I’ll be the first to admit, everything in Haiti takes about 5-times longer than anywhere else, so the slow pace of recovery isn’t shocking.  And you also have to give the NGOs slack simply because rebuilding an entire city, or country for that matter, takes an enormous amount of time.  The phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” resonates well here, but that’s hard to explain to the people who live in tents that seem to hold heat better than our oven.  Life is miserable for them, and time is something they just don’t have.


For Jillian and I, this 6 months has proven to be an enormous test.  Jillian used to say “the earthquake was the easy part,” and it’s totally true.  In that situation, for her at least, it was life or death, black or white.  It was ‘get home and get help’, and knowing what was best was pretty clear.  But now we are posed with questions that always tend to have a slight tint of gray to them, whether it be Jillian managing her programs for WC, or just questions about us.  Nothing comes easy anymore, and whether that’s a reflection of living in Haiti or the residual emotional effects of what happened to us during the earthquake, it’s hard to tell.

We have made some major progressions.  We moved from a tent in Ben and Alexis’ yard to our beautiful Ti Kay.  Jillian went from newly unemployed to being a rockstar at her new job managing programs that are really helping Haitians in need.  I went from an unemployed freelance journalist to NBC’s man in Haiti.  Olie went from a tiny little fur ball into a teenage punk of a puppy.  These are all good things, things we can hang our hats on and say, “not bad, all things considered.”  But it’s funny how all the external things can align perfectly when the pieces inside just don’t seem to fit.


For a lot of people, when they heard that the 6 month anniversary was here they were shocked: “I can’t believe it’s already been 6 months!” they would say.  “I can,” I would think to myself, it’s been the longest 6 months of my life.  It’s hard not to resent the earthquake for doing what it did to us, as I’m sure is the case with almost every single person in Haiti.  Our life was so simple before, it was just Jillian and I, in love, newly married, and living a comfortable life in our tiny little apartment in DC.  Back then all we had to worry about was the cockroaches that pranced around the floors while we ate dinner.  Now our decisions have ramifications, like whether people will be living in miserable tents for the next couple years.

And while many things have moved on, some have stayed the same.  It’s been 6 months since the Mission House we lived in collapsed, and all of our possessions are still sitting (finely pressed, we’re assuming) under the rubble.  I’ve asked to go back and simply dig (without putting myself at risk), but have been turned down time and time again because of a not-so-simple reason.  You see, Haitian Ministries forgot to pay their earthquake insurance for more than a year before the quake, making the house a pile of worthless rubble instead of a fat insurance check to use on the next Mission House.  Because of that no one has been allowed to dig in the house at all (they made an exception when we dug Jillian and Chuck out, thank goodness), as the lawyers overseeing the case have asked to keep it just the way it is until the case is resolved.


Jillian is over this, and I can understand why, the house brings bad memories and she’s ready to move on.  But for me, this is something that I need for closure, just to know that all our stuff is gone (or not…), to know that that life is over.  It’s the watch that my Dad gave me when I graduated from college, it’s all the pictures that are stored on my computer, it’s the hard drive that I backed up all my pictures on and set next to my computer (woops!).  It’s not so much getting those items back, it’s knowing that I can just move on and get on with the future, and not live in the past.  It’s so incredibly frustrating to not be given that chance, to be held back when practically everyone else here has had that opportunity already.

But now we look ahead, at the next 6 months, after which we will look back at what has been done here and scoff at why more hasn’t changed.  By then Jillian and I will have decided if we will stay here for another year or make the move elsewhere, whether it be back to the States or to another country.  Olie will be HUGE, and probably injuring us constantly by thinking he is still a puppy that can jump on our laps like he does now.  Haitians will still be living in tents, and our stuff will probably still be sitting in the rubble of the Mission House.  6 months from now lot’s of things will have changed, but I fear that many will stay same, leaving Haitians with yet another round of media interviews and government events reminding them how bad life after the earthquake really is.

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About a million people have taken pictures of this church, and now I am the million and 1st.  But it’s a pretty amazing sight to see.  The entire front of the church has collapsed, but standing amongst the rubble is this singular statue of Jesus on the cross, almost as if to prove that even though the church is gone, Jesus is still here.

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