We flew from New York City to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, April 16, to try to find out what you need to know about conditions here.
It has been a little more than three months since Jan. 12’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged much of the capital city and surrounding area; it was 35 seconds of mass death and destruction.
An estimated 70% of the buildings in the city of 3 million either dropped into rubble, or were rendered uninhabitable.
The extent of the damage to life-supporting utilities and infrastructure is unclear. So much is unclear about what must be done if the city is to be repaired that my colleague, Architectural Record’s Jenna McKnight, and I organized a weeklong expedition to see what we can learn.
So you will see a lot of words and images from us in coming days. We have put together a schedule of contacts that should take us deep into the strata of the disaster, including arrangements:
—To meet leaders of grass-roots organizations that have long operated schools, clinics and orphanages in Haiti, and who now struggle to maintain services to neighborhood constituencies.
—To meet local and non-Haitian design and construction professionals with some of the more than 1,000 non-governmental aid organizations, or NGOs, estimated to have either redoubled their pre-quake efforts, or surged in to build clinics, repair hospitals and create urban and rural enclaves for refugees.
—To meet with U.S. diplomats and leaders of military construction units who responded to the emergency with engineers, equipment, operators, labor and materiel, and who continue to work to improve living conditions for the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people left homeless, or too fearful of aftershocks to dwell inside their homes.
—To meet with Haitian and international private sector and government leaders and construction professionals engaged in the effort, as best we can.
Planning this trip has been an enormous challenge for Jenna and me, but we have built out an information and support network over the last three months, starting with our news sources and extending to contacts with dozens of friends who have been into Haiti on relief missions. We purposely waited to go until the response was shifting from rescue and stabilization, to first-phase and then permanent reconstruction.
This, we believe, marks the start of what should be an epic construction story.
How else can a city of 3 million that has been so hurt, be restored?
Jenna and I have brought together a small, cooperative team for the trip.
It includes two non-McGraw-Hill people, Aric Mei, a freelance photographer from Phoenix, Ariz., and Lisa Orloff, the founder and director of a New York City-based NGO called World Cares Center. Its mission, since its founding in 2001 in the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has included providing physical and social support for the volunteers who flock to serve in large-scale disasters.
A huge number of those volunteers come out of the construction world; but the ironworkers and construction laborers and equipment operators who pick apart the rubble to free the dead and injured are rarely accorded the same support for coping with their own experiences as professional emergency responders.
Lisa’s organization attempts to rectify that by including all emergency responders, professional and otherwise, in its programs.
Lisa is also working with FEMA and other disaster response organizations to develop procedures and methods so they can anticipate and engage with mass-volunteer response, and use it productively and wisely.
Her mission in Haiti includes evaluating and vetting existing local aid groups and helping reputable ones re-connect with their pre-quake support systems. She wants to help them gain seats at the table when large-scale reconstruction funding for planning and reconstruction starts to flow.
This will be Lisa’s third deployment to Haiti since the quake. She has her own schedule and mission, but we expect to travel together and share our security and resources whenever possible.
More can be seen about World Cares at http://www.worldcares.org.
Finally, we have engaged as our translator Mimi Douze, who is looking after us diligently. We also have the services of her unflappable driver, Mr. Berkens. We will stay in a secure, private residence that shows no trace of damage, a structure which houses an extended family—although most of Port-au-Prince sleeps in tents in the yard, fearing further quakes.
More on this, and all else, to come.
One of the difficulties in planning this trip has been the mixed and confusing messages coming out of Port-au-Prince about the state of affairs, safety and life support. Dispelling some of that fog for our industry readers is part of the reason why we are here now.