A Canadian lifeline for a clinic in dire need

CBC reporters in Haiti share their observations

Rotating out

This note marks the end of CBC’s first group of journalists into Haiti. 

Thank you for reading what has been written here so far, but expect to see more from those who are following the first wave, whose important job it is to keep on telling a still difficult story.

A test for the news industry will be to see how long it continues to pay serious attention to this disaster.  Haitians have long watched from afar as the world often showed little interest in their country’s historic and hard-to-solve problems.

As we stepped into the car for the long drive out, here’s the last thing I heard from one of the people we spent every day with in Port-au-Prince — our fixer/translater/organizer/friend/everything, a woman named Laurence Magloire who looked me in the eyes and said simply: 

"Don’t forget about us."

Paul Hunter

Erecting a hospital

Three-and-a-half days, a dump truck and one big idea. Here's the story of how a makeshift hospital got the help it so desperately needed:

Wednesday afternoon: We visit a giant emergency medical clinic that was overflowing with people badly injured in the earthquake.

Wednesday night: The National  broadcasts our story, which noted the the Port-au-Prince airport was just a stone’s throw away and had piles of aid sitting on the tarmac that was not being delivered. From the clinic, we show a seriously injured little girl being carted about in a rusted wheelbarrow and terrified children being treated for deep flesh injuries without anesthetic (the clinic had run out of it). We hear from doctors begging for aid.

Thursday morning: I get an email from Duncan Dee, the chief operating officer of Air Canada, who saw the report and wants to help. He asks for contact info for the fellow who runs the clinic.

Thursday afternoon: Dee and Alphonse Edouard connect. Edouard gives Dee a lengthy wish list for the clinic.

A dump truck moves aid from the Port-au-Prince airport to the makeshift clinic. (CBC)

Friday:  Dee and his colleagues ask for donations from Air Canada staff (whatever they can spare), Canadian Tire (e.g. generators), the Ottawa Hospital (e.g. medical equipment), drug companies — from anyone who can check off items on Edouard’s list. Everyone gives.

Saturday night: In the cargo bay of an Air Canada flight bringing other aid to Haiti — a plane which would in turn take orphaned Haitians back to Canada — sits a big skid of medical goods labeled Air Canada Hospital. It’s everything Edouard asked for. It’s offloaded, piled high and tied down on to an old dump truck Edouard commandeered. Imagine the opening credits from the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show.

Early Sunday morning:  A flabbergasted Edouard carefully drives everything to his clinic and happily unpacks. Dee returns to Canada.

— Paul Hunter

Building a shelter

A young Haitian child stands in front of the rubble of the Leogane orphanage that used to be home. Crew members of Canada's HMCS Athabaskan are building temporary shelter for the children. ((Craig Paisley/CBC))

A sad task

Among the many unfailingly wonderful people who’ve been helping us make do amid the awful circumstances in Port-au-Prince — taking us where we need to go, helping us find people to interview and translating from Creole, arranging places to sleep for us — is a lovely woman named Kiki.

She finally got around to tidying up her cellphone contacts list yesterday, a week and half after the quake.

Kiki deleted 20 names. All friends. All dead.

— Paul Hunter

Tent city plan

Jenny, a young girl looking after her 109-year-old grandmother in a tent city in Port-au-Prince. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Just a few kilometres north of Port-au-Prince, not far from where authorities are dumping bodies in mass graves, a UN crew is bulldozing a giant, scruffy field in the hot sun to house what would be the biggest of Haiti's tent cities.

The plan is to replace the hundreds of smaller tent cities that have sprung up in the parks and soccer stadiums of Port-au-Prince with one large, centralized camp that would be home to as many as 400,000 Haitians displaced by the quake.

For a more complete look at the plan and some of the people who will be affected, check out Paul Hunter's video report, Tent City Plan, part of the CBC's full coverage of the Haiti disaster.

The other sound of the earthquake

It was an off-hand comment made by the woman who's been helping us get around Port-au-Prince since we arrived here last week.  

As is the new normal, we'd been passing time by silently gazing at all the rubble as we navigated late afternoon stop-and-go traffic. Suddenly, she said, "I will never forget the sound of people coming home that day," referring to the Tuesday the earthquake struck.

"They came home not knowing whether the earthquake had hit their place. So they were dreading it but maybe hoping everything would be okay. 

"Then when they finally saw it they'd scream.  And screams filled the air for hours and hours."

Paul Hunter

Life returning

It’s quite amazing to see life returning to the streets. There are so many signs 10 days after the earthquake

The markets are busy. Sellers line the sides of the streets with fresh produce from the provinces — greens, tomatoes and lots of sugar cane.

It’s getting in now, and available if you have money to buy. On a street that we’ve driven probably twice a day for a week, there were souvenir sellers, hawking Haitian bric-a –brac. They motioned for us to stop. We even passed garbage collectors, shovelling garbage off the street into a truck. Now there’s a never-ending job.

Everywhere you look, people are walking with usable construction materials on their heads or dragging behind their scooters. Corrogated metal and wood. Anything that can be scavenged. It’s like one big moving renovation. Only the new home will be worse than the last.

At night, it’s still surreal. Little light, if any. People move into their temporary tent cities early. They’re becoming permanent, sadly. Young men hang out in the streets looking for something to do.

Saving lives in the rubble is yesterday’s urgency. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s doesn’t turn sinister.

In a neighbourhood a group of boys on motorcycles stopped us.

In English one asked, "First time here?"

We nodded yes.

"Welcome to Haiti," he laughed.

—Susan Ormiston

The earth moves

Friday began, again, with an aftershock — while I was making coffee.

You hear it a fraction of a second before you feel it, and they’re not always the same. Sometimes it’s like a snake undulating under the ground. I felt that one in an open field last Sunday. Other times it feels like something fell off an underground cliff —  a jolt. That’s what it felt like on Friday.

There’s sound, yes, but not like a rumble at all. It’s a crack or a thump or a bang — almost sounded like a distant bombardment one time. That’s our clue.

It’s more unsettling at night because everything is in the dark. In the night, when they happen we hear the shutters in our windows vibrate, first. But that big quake this week? The 6.1 one? I slept right through it.

There are advantages to being exhausted. Last Saturday, in a Port-au-Prince suburb called Carrefour, a desperately poor neighbourhood, the ground moved.

"That’s okay," one woman said. "The earth is trying to settle itself."

—Susan Ormiston

Unsurprisingly, earthquakes generally don’t look like they do in one’s imagination — the crazy zig-zag cracks in the ground we’ve all seen on Saturday morning cartoons.

But sometimes they do.

At Port-au-Prince’s shipping dockyard the ground is so soft because of the nearby water that the asphalt gave way and is separated by large zig-zag cracks just like in the movies.

Earthquake evidence courtesy central casting.

Another thing about the shipyards, they are still a mess.

But foreign aid is finally starting to pass through Port-au-Prince's main port.

Paul Hunter

Canada's embassy

The growing crowd outside the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince. (Angela Naus/CBC)

Everyday, the lineups seem to be getting a little bigger outside the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince.

The Canadian government's intention to open its doors to greater family reunification is apparently being broadly interpreted here, perhaps as the news itself is being handed around mostly from person to person.

This was the scene outside the Canadian embassy on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010.

The lineups have been building for most of this week.


One of Port-au-Prince's tap-taps. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Driving through the streets of Port-au-Prince you see a lot of these vehicles. They’re called tap-taps. 

And though they have nothing to do with the earthquake, it is apparent they still fall into the broad category of Things In Haiti That Are Potentially Fatal.

Tap-taps are something between a bus and a taxi and they are always packed to overflowing with passengers. 

They’re called tap-taps because you tap to make it stop when you want to get off.

Of course, if it were to get into an accident, or drive off a bridge or over the edge of one of Port-au-Prince’s many cliffside roads, tapping wouldn’t much help.

Paul Hunter

Fredo's mask, and cross. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

You never know what you might need

CBC has hired a driver to get us where we need to go in Port-au-Prince. 

He’s a super capable guy named Fredo and he has taken us everywhere – from the devastated streets of the city centre to the overwhelmed sidewalk medical clinics, the overcrowded tent cities and the now destroyed Montana Hotel. 

This is what hangs from his rear-view mirror.

My kit

Some of you may be wondering what reporters take with them when they attempt to cover an earthquake. Aren’t you glad you’re reading?  Here’s my kit:

CBC reporters have been sending along their photos and observations of the relief effort and life in Haiti for the past week.

You can find their previous notebook items in the link at the right.

Click here for all the CBC video reporting from Haiti.

  • Notepad, two pens.
  • Medical mask.
  • Tiger Balm (helps mask the smell of bodies).
  • Cash money in a throwaway wallet.
  • Press ID (the more colourful the better, opens more doors).
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Stills camera with extra memory.
  • Satellite phone.
  • Passport (can’t get into the Canadian embassy compound without it).
  • Bug spray (and/or malaria pills. I choose bug spray).
  • Hat, cheap wraparounds and sunscreen.
  • Water

Today, like on other days, we ultimately gave our water away.

Paul Hunter

On whether to filter what we see

It’s become a daily question here for myself, CBC cameraman Bill Loucks and producer Sylvia Thomson:  What is the line that ought not be crossed when it comes to broadcasting pictures of what we see each day in Haiti?  

We see terrible things. I have cried.

Shooting video of what we encounter is a different matter in that one can always gather the images, no matter how brutal, then decide later what is appropriate for TV.

So we shoot it all.

But we are constantly mindful of children at home — or anyone, really — who may be watching the news and unprepared for such stuff. 

So we always consider whether the same editorial points we are trying to make can be achieved with less gruesome video. No one ever wants to gratuitously turn stomachs.

That said, as we’ve edited our reports the past several days we’ve increasingly tried to push the envelope further than usual, mostly because we have all personally felt it’s important for Canadians to see these things, even if — paradoxically — it might cause people to look away. 

It is what’s happening in Haiti.

—Paul Hunter

Canadian armed forces personnel from HMCS Athabaskan, a kilometre offshore, prepare to embark for Haiti. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

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