Page last updated at 09:50 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Rebuilding Haiti from rubble and dust

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

A devastated street in Port-au-Prince 20 January 2010
Many of Haiti's streets were devastated after the earthquake

Wilmer Blanc sits in the rubble of what remains of his house, refusing to move. The former bus conductor saved all his life to build this. Now it is a wreck, with what few items of furniture he has been able to salvage stacked neatly in a corner.

"The way things are now," he says. "It's like we are waiting to die - I've got nothing left."

His next-door neighbour Jerry, a pensioner, feels the same. He gestures towards a pile of rubble 50m (164ft) away. Deep beneath the debris are almost certainly buried his neighbour and her two young children.

Shattered buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti
More than 1.5 million people have been left homeless by the quake

Nearly every Haitian you meet has a similar story to tell.

These men are among more than one and half million Haitians left homeless following the earthquake.

In Leogane, the epicentre of the quake, 50km (30 miles) south-west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, streets have been reduced to dust, and many people, like Wilmer, are not expecting help from the government.

It is a government that barely exists now, and which before the earthquake, was mistrusted by many because of high levels of corruption.

I'm not going to wait for the government to help me
Pierre Paul Guerrier

But across the road from these men, modest rebuilding efforts are already under way.

Pierre Paul Guerrier used to run the local brewery.

Although the place has been flattened, along with two of his other houses, he has sold what furniture he has been able to salvage and has begun to rebuild the place.

"I'm not going to wait for the government to help me. As you can see I'm rebuilding the foundations here, to stop any rainwater from coming in."

In the coming months Haiti's seasonal rains will begin. So the drive towards reconstruction is a race against time.

The Haitian government needs billions of dollars in assistance to begin the mammoth task of rehabilitating the country.

In March a major conference is scheduled to persuade the international community to contribute. Many are hoping this could be the chance to give the poorest country in the western hemisphere, a fresh start.

Finance ministry building
The finance ministry building is among those badly damaged by the quake

But few Haitians have any illusions about the challenges that lie ahead.

In Port-au-Prince, almost the entire seat of government has been destroyed. The government revenue office is a sea of rubble and tax forms, and the ministry of finance is a crumbling wreck.

Miraculously the central bank seems to have survived relatively unscathed, but it is surrounded by twisted metal, cars mashed between concrete slabs and huge chunks of stone.

Bulldozers from Haiti's ministry of public works have started to shift some of the rubble in the main business centres, but if the pace of current progress is anything to go by it is likely to take weeks.

The debris is being taken to a waste site on the edge of town, ready to be reused when the reconstruction work begins.

Don't be fooled by the fact that this looks like business as usual
Red Cross worker

In the worst hit areas, crisis teams have been scrambled from among Haitian professionals and local government chiefs, determined to take a lead. Their job is to determine the need for the weeks and months ahead.

"Schools will be a priority," says Leogane deputy mayor Vincent Saint Juste.

"We also want to rebuild the churches and health clinics. This is a city where 90% of the buildings were destroyed and the remaining ones are unsafe. So we have to start from scratch. It's a city that has to be totally rebuilt."

The Red Cross is beginning to send out assessment teams to determine what food, shelter and medicine Haitians will need.

"Don't be fooled by the fact that this looks like business as usual," said one Red Cross Worker, who has travelled the world responding to natural disasters.

People here have been incredibly resilient, but although you see them out trading on the streets, clinging on to some sense of normality, Haiti remains a country deeply shaken by the events of the past two weeks.

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