Aftershocks and mass graves

CBC reporters and their observations from Haiti.
Looking out to sea near Port-au-Prince as Western aid, in this case, via the U.S. navy, finds new ways to wade ashore. (Reuters)

My first earthquake

I've never experienced an earthquake. Today that changed.

I woke this morning because the box spring I was sleeping on was shaking as if some giant had his hands on the end of it and was moving it back and forth to rouse me.

We have felt aftershocks almost everyday since we have been here — the roof rattles or things just move on their own.

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

Read their previous notebook items here and here.

See all the CBC video reporting from Haiti.

Today it was different. It lasted for about 10 seconds.

I was dead asleep and it took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening. But once I did my heartbeat picked up.

When the aftershock finished, I laid there for a few seconds. Could I hear the crash of things falling? No. Voices? No. Was the shaking over? Yes.

And then one last sort of lull, like when you go over a wave in a boat. And that was it.

I didn't fall back asleep. This is what a 6.1-magnitude alarm clock feels like.

Angela Naus

Aftershock or earthquake?

After a couple of days, each with less violent aftershocks, last night we had a doozie: a 6.1 magnitude, we were told.

At almost exactly 6 a.m., a thick, deep, angry rumble exploded out of the ground and into the house that CBC is camped in, swooshing the place back and forth.

Just like you see in the movies, it really did seem as if everything had turned into jelly.

Loud creaky splintering noises offered the instant thought that collapse would be imminent. On the street, people were shouting; birds squawking.

Having snapped awake in bed, here's what races through the mind: Should I flee? If so, how? And to where?

What if the walls fall? Is the window safer than the doorway? The house is on a hill, which way would the concrete tumble? What is safe?

I was one foot off the bed when the rumbling stopped.

The house is fine.

Paul Hunter

Aboard the Athabaskan

"What the hell was that!"

The words rang out inside my head after I bolted up way too fast and my melon met metal. 

One way to treat an aftershock: Some young people wash off in water spraying from a pipe that broke during a magnitude 6.1 aftershock in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. The most powerful aftershock yet rocked the capital and even the Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan, anchored a kilometre offshore. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)
  I was on the top bunk of three in a room deep down in the bowels of HMCS Athabaskan. 

Moments later those same words could be heard from some of the 15 others who share the space. We were all shaken awake. 

The huge destroyer that has been our home and base of operations for a week now was vibrating. 

Had we run aground?  Did we hit something?  Did something hit us?  A voice came over the intercom to tell us in fact, something had hit us.   We were warned to expect it. In waters about a kilometre off the coast of Haiti, a 6.1 "aftershock" is what rocked this boat.    The initial earthquake was a 7.1 in Leogane, near the epicentre of Haiti's earthquake. 

That's where the crew members from the Athabaskan are focusing their aid efforts.   The voice on the intercom confirmed the tremors were from the aftershock, 80 kilometres inland.  Another, much smaller shake took place as he was still speaking. 

No one on board was hurt, but many wonder how long the random rumbling will last.    Then a word from the captain: "Remember as you carry out your tasks today, the aftershock could change the mood of the people on shore you will see again today."    Less than an hour after being shaken, I saw a team of extremely dedicated Canadians take the shake in stride.    First the armed landing party, then teams of 12 began gearing up. 

All were anxious to get to shore to help in whatever way they could. 

They climbed aboard the small inflatable boats that will taxi them back and forth between the ship and the beach. 

They have already witnessed horrible suffering, and we all were wondering what another day would bring.  But everyone is anxious to help and determined to make a difference.

Craig Paisley

Cité Soleil

One side effect of the earthquake is that the world has suddenly learned so much more about Haiti and its problems.

A little Haitian girl in one of the worst slums in the Western hemisphere. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

So when you look at the attached photo of this beautiful little girl we met Tuesday, consider where she's growing up: in a dark, moist, filthy, closet-sized hovel hidden deep in the warren of back lanes that make up Cité Soleil.

Is is the worst and most dangerous slum in the poorest country of the Western hemisphere, a country with a population that is largely illiterate and ridden with disease, and with a brutal history of colonialism, slavery and corrupt central governments.

It is a country that has devastated its once-glorious mountains by over-harvesting its trees.

It's been slammed by hurricanes the past few years and, a week ago, had its worst earthquake in 200 years.

Still, isn't she a lovely little girl?

Paul Hunter

Battle rhythm is a drumbeat

It's called battle rhythm. And it's the concept behind much of what is happening here with the Canadian navy in Haiti.

The military embraces unique terms like any profession does. Battle rhythm is the phrase of the trained warrior. 

It's near impossible to really understand inside jargon. Nuance can never really be translated. But I think I'm getting to know the little crawl spaces hiding deep inside battle rhythm.

It's a drum. 

Battle rhythm is a drumbeat. It allows the navy to best use its sailors, equipment and supplies to achieve the goal. And because it's the military, the goal could be killing people or helping them.

Here in Haiti battle rhythm has squat to do with killing. God knows there's already more then enough death around here. (And just as an aside, God doesn't seem to be in Haiti lately. She is welcome to make an appearance anytime. Until then the Canadian navy will do its best to backfill.)

Ha! No lightning strike.

Now back to battle rhythm. 

HMCS Athabaskan is the kettle drum. It's from here that the steady, deep beat originates. Each morning Athabaskan's captain chats with the crew over the ship's public address system (sailors call it a pipe. I have no idea why).

He gives the crew the day's game plan: how many sailors will be going ashore and how long they will stay. How 'Big Dog', the ship's chopper, will be used.

It's big picture stuff that trickles down to each sailor ashore and on ship. Everyone has a beat to keep. Every minute is weighed and calculated by the battle rhythm's metronome.

It's steady, sure-footed business.

There are things that could speed up the battle rhythm. Things the navy doesn't have like a reliable supply ship or the on-again-off again Joint Support Ships.

The 41-year-old HMCS Preserver, the navy's only east supply ship, could work wonders here. Its big belly full of food and medical aid, its shore launches and its extra hangar space would be welcome.

But it's not to be.

Thirty-eight year old HMCS Athabaskan and teenager HMCS Halifax maybe aren't the perfect ships for the job. But they're here and that's what matters. 

Admiral J.R. Jellicoe goes down in naval lore as the man who sort-of beat the Germans in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.  He once said given the choice between good men and good ships, he would always take good men.

Which brings us down to the final beat of the battle rhythm… the human heartbeat. 

There are heaps of great big hearts on this ship.

You can see them everyday as the sailors from the shore parties arrive back on Athabaskan. They're exhausted. But to a person, they're looking for way to make sure they will be on tomorrow's always grueling, often grizzly and never easy mission to save Haitian lives.   

Rob Gordon

Not crumpled enough

Not crumpled, just cracked. Now what?

Not crumpled, just cracked. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

There is hardly a road in Port-au-Prince that isn't littered with rubble from a recently collapsed building. There is plenty to be rebuilt here from scratch.

But don't forget, they also have to deal with all the places that didn't crumble — but might. Those that are still standing but cracked.

Would you really want to live or work in any of them?

There are a lot of places like that on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Street fruit. The vendors are back. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Food, glorious food

Look what's also on the streets of Port-au-Prince again.

Fresh fruit. The vendors are back.

Roadblocks in the night

Driving home the other night, we noticed roadblocks on a street near where we turned. "Why's that?" we asked. "They don't want cars at night because people are sleeping on the streets," we were told.

What to do with all the bodies

What exactly do you write when you've spent the day traipsing about the Haitian countryside looking for a mass grave?

And then what do you write when you find yourself walking on top of one without realizing it, because the top of a skull (or was it something else?) was sticking out above the dirt and you nearly put your foot into it?

Covering your face because of the stench of rotting bodies in Port-au-Prince. (Associated Press)

What do you write when you stumble onto a pile of bodies they forgot to bury and instead left in the open air behind a bush near another mass grave? Bodies that are now covered with flies and maggots by the way. 

And what about when the bodies of children are in that pile, children  who still have their pyjamas on?

What exactly are they going to do with all these bodies? Thousands of them? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? No one really knows. 

They are putting them in mass graves outside of Port-au-Prince by the truckload.

Paul Hunter