03 Feb 2010 State of the city
We just returned from a drive around Cite Soleil and downtown. The devastation there is much, much worse than what we’ve been seeing around the clinic. We’ve basically been in a suburb – the houses are spaced a bit further apart and two story buildings were rare. Therefore, while the devastation is very real – it’s not as packed together and overwhelming. People have space to sleep on the ground on in simple shelters next to their (former) homes.
We did clinic this morning, seeing a mere ~150 people. This brings our total for the week to the high 800’s. Honestly, we could be plus or minus fifty. We try to track patients with a rudimentary chart (piece of paper with name, vitals, chief complaint, evaluation by the doctor, treatment administered, drugs prescribed, and so on) but urgent cases pre-empt that process. I’ve also lost count of how many people have been carried past me in a fireman’s (two man) carry as I worked filling small containers with our limited drug supply.
Google maps and Google Earth have remarkable overhead imagery of the city, updated after the quake. I would encourage everyone to take a look at the national palace, the cathedral, and Cite Soleil for reference on what I’m writing here.
Cite Soleil is built on top of the former garbage dump of the city. Not the most stable of foundations – but it’s also explicitly intended for some of the poorest people in the Hemisphere. The poverty there was intense prior to the quake. When it rains, the sewage from the city flows through Cite Soleil on its way to the sea. We stopped at a church supported by the group I’m with (Family Health Ministries). It would normally seat about 2,000 people, but it is unusable due to many cracks through the foundation and walls.
The architect traveling with our team picked up a fist sized piece of concrete from the foundation and crushed it to powder between his hands. “You couldn’t build a doghouse on this foundation anymore,” were his exact words. Apparently once concrete has set, subjecting it to severe compression and strain will weaken it structurally.
We then drove to the national cathedral and the palace. Frankly, I’ve never felt so safe in Port Au Prince before. You can find footage of those buildings on CNN and so on. It’s a lot more intense up close. A city builds a cathedral as an expression of their hopes and dreams – the architectural pinnacle of what they can accomplish. Seeing that reduced to rubble took a lot out of me.
A lot of buildings looked fairly normal, until you realized that you were looking at a second floor resting at street level.
On the other hand, we passed US, Brazilian, and French military and construction convoys. We chatted with several members of other groups who were getting on with the business of building infrastructure.
People are living in clusters of strangely homogenous tents. Here, a hundred from Coleman. There, 200 from the Rotary.
With that, I will again close and let someone else notify family and friends that they are doing okay.