blog post photo
Photo for ENR by Tom Sawyer

Petionville, Delmas and Port-au-Prince fall in an 8-mile-long line you can traverse along the Rue Fernand in an hour or so, depending on traffic.

The ground is high in Petionville and the money is there, although that does not mean the poverty is not. The ground is low in Port-au-Prince and the poverty is ubiquitous.

Extreme poverty is everywhere. But the earthquake’s fist pounded it all, and it pounded it like a fist, demolishing this and demolishing that, but leaving much in between unassailed.

In a way, though, the damage here is not about buildings, it’s about confidence. People no longer believe in structures. They live in tents outside of houses with no signs of damage, three months and more since the primary quake.

An enormous percentage of the population does this, even when their homes came through undamaged, and that is in addition to the huge number of people who unequivocally lost theirs. Children no longer attend schools that are still standing. The pastor who showed me one school with two small buildings, one destroyed and one intact, told me classes are held under a tarp in the yard. “They are afraid,” he said, pointing to the ceiling.

We met yesterday with the architect, Frantzi Apottos, and foreman (contractor), Verneus Guerrier, who designed and built the villa we are sharing with an uncounted number of relatives of the owner, Mama Pierre. So far we have found one hairline crack at the corner of a window on an interior wall. The architect and his foreman told us the house is founded on wooden piles driven in by sledge hammer “until the wood breaks,” and then is formed up of steel reinforced, cast-in-place “beton,” which he described as a concrete product with a relatively slow cure rate, handmixed with multiple mixers on site to enable continuous pour.

He has many, many buildings around Port-au-Prince, he said, and very few are damaged; but whether to credit his design and construction techniques, or the earthquake’s caprice is beyond me. Everywhere we go we see whole buildings and obliterated ones standing side-by-side.

He did say he is on a post-quake project building a government office building in Jacmel, and there have been significant changes in building practices since the quake, which he described as “more, everything more.” More beton, more rebar, more wire.

Mama Pierre, the owner of the house, and businesswoman with a host of enterprises and structures around Port-au-Prince, also confirmed for us that building codes are mythical concepts here. Officials make demands, and builders disregard them. Her own house project started with a consultant’s survey and a geological evaluation of the site, which then led to the foundation plan. None of that was required of her, but as a smart owner she knew enough to demand it.

What never crossed her mind, though, she said, was the possibility of an earthquake.

Mama Pierre and her family, and their families, sleep in tents in the backyard, too.