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Port-au-Prince: A devastated city

By Nick Davis
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

People remain on the rubbles of their home in Port-au-Prince. Photo: 13 January 2010
The devastating effects of the tremors can be seen everywhere in Port-au-Prince

As the plane began its descent into Port-au-Prince, the landing lights of the runway were nearly the only illumination that could be seen over the city.

Normally the Haitian capital twinkles as night falls, the lights only dimmed by the regular power outages - but after the quake, the whole place lies in darkness apart from the few homes fortunate enough to be both still standing and equipped with a generator.

At the airport, it is clear the relief operation has begun. A C130 military transport plane taxis before unloading its cargo. The airport is now a staging post for the international aid starting to arrive.

The scenes outside the terminal, however, are chaotic - a shock to the senses, especially when an armoured UN vehicle rolls through the car park as I struggle through a group of people demanding access to the airport.

Icelandic rescue workers unload pallets of water at Port-au-Prince airport. Photo: 13 January 2010
International aid has started arriving to Haiti

As we begin the drive towards the centre of the city, the devastating effects of the tremors can be fully seen - collapsed walls, a building that looks as if it has just been pulled apart from the middle, its flat roof laying on top of the foundations, a new hospital lying in ruins - a hole on the fourth floor where the operating rooms used to be.

I had seen the pictures of the devastation - but they do not come close to the reality, it is much worse.

Everywhere you look you see people on the street - walking about, sitting about, because there is nothing else to do.

Scared of the aftershocks that have continued to shake the city, they stay outside because it is the safest place to be in case of more building collapses, and in many cases they do not have homes to which they can return.

The night air is filled with the sound of singing and clapping as people gather to try and keep their spirits up, and from all across the city, voices can be heard.

Next to living are the dead. Covered in blankets, their ash-covered limbs poke from beneath makeshift shrouds.

People on a street in Port-au-Prince. Photo: 13 January 2010
Many city residents are spending the night outside, scared of new tremors

There is no mortuary big enough for the numbers who have died. The only sign of anything being done is a commercial flat-bed van onto which police officers are stacking bodies.

After winding our way through the hills in a 4x4, past fallen trees and abandoned vehicles, we get close to where we are staying.

It is in an upmarket part of Port-au-Prince, but the walls that kept Haiti's poor out of the gated communities are no more. The razor wire is lying in the building debris alongside the steel supposed to keep it there.

We eventually have to get out and walk. Someone warns me to look up and keep to the left - good advice, as the high wall next to me has concrete blocks hanging loose.

The road is completely destroyed as we get closer to the house.

Using my cellphone as a torch - its only use since nearly all communication is out, we clamber over tarmac ripped open by the quake. On this solitary road we find yet another body before making it to the safety of the compound, with its armed security guards.

So I have light from a generator, even an internet connection, but I am spending the night outside. The building is too unsafe to sleep in because of the risk of further aftershocks.



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