Misery is gripping the survivors of Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, more than six months after the disaster and despite an international outpouring of humanitarian aid and goodwill. L.A. Times correspondent Ken Ellingwood was recently back in Haiti, where thousands sit in squalid temporary encampments waiting for relief, and new homes.
"At first we thought that the way the international community was coming together that in six months we'd be off the street. But we're still here," Stella Nicholas told Ellingwood from a shelter near downtown Port-au-Prince. "Our government is incapable of getting us out of this situation. I hope the international community can keep our hope alive, because it's fading."
The Times also checks back in with quake survivor Sounlove Zamor, above, a 19-year-old amputee who has been waiting for several months for a trip to an Israeli hospital to be fitted with prosthetic limbs. Communication and passport issues have kept Zamor waiting and waiting. As a commenter on the story notes, Zamor is but one of many amputees hoping for prosthetic surgery.
An L.A. Times editorial recently called for the United States government to expedite visas for thousands of Haitians with sponsors in the U.S. Meanwhile, hip-hop entertainer Wyclef Jean is reportedly considering a run for Haiti's presidency in elections later this year. The deadline to declare a candidacy is Aug. 7.
So what's taking so long to get improvements to the people of Haiti?
Authorities in charge of the relief effort say that progress is actually impressive, given the scale of the disaster. Major outbreaks of illness or violence have so far been averted, although rape is increasingly a threat in some camps. The quake exacerbated existing problems in Haiti, such as deficiencies in infrastructure and the ambivalent nature of land rights in the country. Reaching recovery goals will take more time, officials say.
Yet as reports frequently point out, skepticism remains high among ordinary Haitians who are still struggling to survive since the disaster struck. Richard Morse, a Twitter user in Haiti who rose to prominence in the days after the quake, recently tweeted: "First 2 questions to ask Haiti's Presidential Candidates 1) Are you planning any audits? 2) Are you planning any arrests?"
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Sounlove Zamor, 19, right, with her sister Baranatha, 20, at the general hospital in Gonaives, Haiti. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
A strong earthquake shook southern Mexico early Wednesday morning, reportedly killing one person in Oaxaca and being felt as far away as Mexico City and the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Guerrero. The quake struck at 2:22 a.m. with an epicenter in rural southwestern Oaxaca near the Pacific Ocean. It lasted half a minute and was strong enough to shake buildings in Mexico City, sending frightened people onto the street despite the hour.
The only death reported as of Thursday morning was in Oaxaca near the epicenter, where a man was killed when a beam fell (link in Spanish).
Mexican and U.S. seismological services initially measured the tremor at magnitude 6.5, but later the U.S. Geological Survey downgraded it to 6.2. It was the most significant quake in the country since the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit on Easter Sunday along the U.S.-Mexico border area near the city of Mexicali, killing 2 people.
In Mexico City, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard reported the quake on Twitter shortly after it struck. Authorities sent ambulances to patrol streets and police helicopters to scan for damage. Electricity and water connections were affected in at least three boroughs. Some buildings, including a 10-story police tower, suffered visible exterior cracks, reports said.
An hour later, the mayor tweeted that the quake caused no major damage and that the metro system was also unharmed: "Rest, if only for a little while."
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Guests outside a hotel on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City after the 2:22 a.m. quake on Wednesday. Credit: El Universal
Nearly four months after the Haiti earthquake, the situation appears uniformly bleak for hundreds of thousands of people living in temporary encampments in and around Port-au-Prince, Ken Ellingwood reports in The Times. Some segments of the society want things to return to normal -- but how can normality be achieved with more than a million left homeless after the quake? Where will they go?
The Haitian soccer federation wanted to get a season underway, for example, which meant removing 3,000 who were living on the field of the Port-au-Prince soccer stadium. More than 1,300 families are still living under tarps in the stadium parking lot, preventing fans from showing up. In Croix-des-Bouquets, the private school Lycee Jean Jacques wants to resume classes, but that would mean removing about 10,000 people crowded into tents on its campus.
"We are hungry," says a message painted on a wall at the school. "Give us food."
Haiti's government plans to build massive provisional housing sites for homeless earthquake survivors on the outskirts of the city, but hasn't found enough land to put them on. The aid agency Oxfam is urging Haiti to first establish the housing camps before allowing the homeless to move from other encampments. As The Times previously reported, people are already moving to Corail Cesselesse, the first of the new provisional housing sites.
"I don't like it," one woman arriving at the camp said. "It's like a wasteland."
A group of 250 men, women and children arrived on Mexican shores over the weekend from earthquake-torn Haiti, bringing to 324 the total of Haitian citizens who have relocated to Mexico since the Jan. 12 disaster. Sunday's arrivals from Port-au-Prince traveled to the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico after five days at sea aboard the Mexican naval ship "Usumacinta."
Mexican immigration authorities said the new arrivals are relatives of Haitians already living in Mexico and came as part of a family reunification program. The National Migration Institute (INM) said each would be granted a "humanitarian visa," allowing them to work and study in Mexico, use public services, and travel to and from the country. Previously, two smaller groups of migrants from Haiti arrived in Mexico in the days following the earthquake.
The INM reported that the Haitians sang "Merci, merci, Mexique" (French for "Thank you, thank you, Mexico") as they boarded buses and private vehicles and headed to reunions with family members. The new arrivals are expected to settle primarily in Mexico City, Mexico State, the city of Pachuca, and in Monterrey, said an official at the Haitian embassy in Mexico City.
La Jornada reported that health authorities administered the A/H1N1 flu vaccine to the arriving migrants.
In the weeks after the Port-au-Prince quake, which left as many as 250,000 dead, Mexico saw an outpouring of donations and government aid for survivors on the island, reflecting a deep affinity that developed within Mexican society for the Haitian victims. To get a sense of how deeply that affinity runs, consider this: a newspaper in Tijuana on Tuesday devoted an entire article to merely report that no Haitian among the recent arrivals is expected to move to the border city. (Interestingly, El Sol de Tijuana also noted that 27 Haitians have resided in Tijuana for "several years.")
In late January, after Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard suggested that the capital would be "ready" to welcome Haitian orphans as "future sons and the daughters" of the city, thousands contacted officials at the Haitian Embassy to request adopting a child -- although no such program existed.
The newest threat for Haiti, still actively recovering from the January quake, is rainy season. More from The Times here.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Haitians arriving in Veracruz on Sunday. Credit: La Jornada
It is the strangest thing about life in the far northwest of Mexico and far southwest of the United States. The international border is there, policed and guarded, its crossing coveted by millions -- for Mexicans, to work, for Americans, to "get away from it all." The boundary divides the First World from the developing world, the wealthy neighbor from the poor one. But in so many ways, the line is invisible, not there at all.
Earthquakes, for one, know no borders. And neither do "earthquake cultures."
The magnitude 7.2 quake that hit the region on Sunday afternoon, killing two but otherwise wreaking little havoc, reminds us of this. Mexicali, the capital of Baja California state, did not suffer any more considerable damage than its sister city on the U.S. side, much smaller Calexico. Same for the nearby twin cities of San Diego and Tijuana.
There was minimal damage overall reported compared with that in the aftermath of the weaker January quake in Haiti. The Imperial Valley and Mexicali region is sparsely populated relative to Port-au-Prince, for one, but also, as a Mexican engineer told the Christian Science Monitor, builders in Baja "have been influenced by American engineering." More:
Experts from both countries share research and therefore end up with similar building codes, says Stephen Mahin, a structural engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. He says that Mexicali's proximity with the US has led to a robust interchange of information on how to build correctly.
[Civil engineer Eduardo] Miranda says that, unlike in the U.S., residential housing does not have the same standards as commercial buildings, which means many people build their own homes without the input of an engineer. But he says people still build smarter because of their experience with earthquakes.
And yet, this passage from The Times' second-day story on the earthquake brought to mind once more that contradiction of life on the border:
Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited a hard-hit village near the epicenter late Monday afternoon, touching down in a helicopter to hand out the first bags of food and listen to residents' complaints.
"Do not be scared," he told the crowd in Colonia de la Puerta. "We will do everything we can for you."
As he spoke, convoys of Californians drove past in sport-utility vehicles and trucks, heading home from vacation.
In a poor farming village about 20 miles south of Mexicali, the Baja government was setting up a relief center Monday to distribute blankets, food and water for those whose homes were damaged or flooded. Hundreds of people, mostly families, have begun lining up, some of them walking miles to get to the center.
Scattered throughout Colonia de la Puerta, hundreds of ramshackle homes made of adobe or brick, with tin or tar-paper roofs, collapsed after Sunday's magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Many people are sleeping outside or in tents.
Government workers were busy Monday setting up a large tent to provide shelter while social service agencies were setting up to offer assistance. There were no reports of injuries.
The Mexican Army is here to help keep control and President Felipe Calderon is scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon.
The lines at the relief center were mostly orderly and government officials said they did not anticipate any problems.
“We all know each other in this area,” said Hugo Flores, a government worker. “No one will cause a problem because, if he does, we will know him.”
“This is a seismic area so we try to be prepared,” said Marco Antonio, Undersecretary for Public Security for Baja. “But this was bigger than we anticipated. We’re doing our best to put things together.”
The 7.2 Mexicali earthquake has produced more than 100 aftershocks in the last 15 hours, including many small temblors in California.
Many of the aftershocks have occurred on the California side of the border just above the epicenter near Mexicali. Residents in Calexico and other parts of Imperial County and San Diego County reported feeling them. There have been other aftershocks farther north in Riverside County, around the Salton Sea.
A 4.1 temblor struck off the coast of Malibu on Sunday afternoon. Dozens of the aftershocks measure stronger than magnitude 4.
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck on Easter Sunday near the northern Mexican city of Mexicali has killed two people, according to reports, and produced more than 100 aftershocks in less than 15 hours. The quake hit at 3:40 p.m. local time, centered in the wine-producing town of Guadalupe Victoria, 30 miles south of Mexicali. It was felt strongly in Los Angeles, more than 200 miles away, as the quake moved from southeast to northwest, seismologists said.
Local authorities are reporting damage in Mexicali to hospitals, roads, and water and telephone services. The Baja daily El Mexicano says "thousands of Mexicalenses slept outside their homes" on Sunday night out of fear of aftershocks. The main road connecting Tijuana and Mexicali was heavily damaged, as seen above, reports Frontera.
It was the third major quake in the Western Hemisphere in the last three months: In addition to the Haiti disaster, in which more than 200,000 people were killed, central and southern Chile were hit by one of the most powerful seismic events in history when an 8.8 quake struck on Feb. 27, killing about 700 people.
Mexicali's twin U.S. city of Calexico suffered some damage in its old center, reports the Imperial Valley Press, but no deaths or serious injuries. The northbound border crossing between Calexico and Mexicali remained closed Monday, reports The Times' Tony Perry, who is in the affected region.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City.
Photo: Damage can be seen on the main road connecting Tijuana and Mexicali after the 7.2 Easter quake. Credit: EFE, via El Universal
Barely a building remains standing in this once-pleasant beach resort that slopes up from Chile's Dichato Bay, a scenic cove largely shielded from the open Pacific.
The row of eateries and bars that once lined the shore are smashed to pieces. The central plaza is a pile of debris: splintered wood beams, bent metal roofs, dented gas tanks, fences, broken trees and kitchen appliances, among other objects. Fishing boats have been tossed a mile into town and beyond.
The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile last week clearly caused a lot of damage, but here and in other coastal communities it was the ensuing tsunami that proved most destructive.
Residents in Dichato said the waves came ashore between the headlands over several hours, engulfing houses, boats, cars and everything else in their way.
Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell, a veteran foreign correspondent, scrambled to quickly get from Los Angeles to Chile to cover the massive earthquake that struck there last weekend. McDonnell and Times photographer Michael Robinson Chavez have spent the past few days on the ground reporting on the chaos and efforts to bring order and deliver aid. McDonnell filed the following dispatch on how the pair managed to get to Chile for the big story:
Sometimes, reporting on breaking news is almost as much about the logistics of getting to the location as actually getting the story. After all, if you can’t get there, what difference does it make how good the story is, or was?
It’s often a dilemma for reporters, especially those working abroad who repeatedly grapple with what many travelers see: capricious airplane schedules, unreliable airports and grumpy ticket counter personnel, among other hurdles. Disasters and wars multiply the challenge: Airports shut down, roads are closed, officials and travel bureaucrats go into a deny-access mode.
That’s a bit of background for a small logistics tale about covering the Chilean earthquake. A photographer colleague and I were tasked Saturday with getting to Chile to cover the big quake. Problem was, we were in Los Angeles, half a world way, or so it seemed. So how to get there as quickly as possible? We were already losing time compared with journalists based in South America.
Fortunately, we found a flight on LAN Airlines leaving about noon, nonstop to Lima, Peru. Normally, Lima is an ideal point from which to enter Chile. But the airport in Santiago, the Chilean capital, was shut down because of the quake. And so was LAN’s ticketing function.
From experience, I knew that American Airlines had a ticket-sharing relationship with LAN. American accepted our payment, and soon we were on our way to Lima, confident we would find a way into Chile, if not directly into Santiago, perhaps via Buenos Aires and overland through the Andes.
Sometimes a good break like this portends a string of good luck, I thought. Not so fast.
The chaotic airport in Lima initially offered no way out. No flights to Santiago. No possibility of getting on the overbooked flights to Buenos Aires. The traditional tools of charm, cajoling and even flashing some greenbacks didn’t seem to work.
The quake had sown disarray and turmoil. Stranded passengers had been waiting for days and were angry. A ticket salesclerk seemed to relish our anguish. He kept encouraging us to try different Internet and telephone methods, but in the end nothing worked. I wondered if he was playing with our heads, savoring his spoiler role in the logistics drama.
We spent the night in the airport, exhausting possibilities, going slowly mad. We seriously contemplated a route through Brazil, then Buenos Aires, then overland to Chile. Who knows when we would have arrived?
Desperate, we jumped on a flight to Tacna, Peru, on the border with Chile. From there we could cross the border into Chile in a taxi, and see if there was a plane going south from Arica, the Chilean border city. It didn’t seem very promising. We’d heard that no one was flying in Chile. Most likely, we’d end up having to take a 30-hour road trip through the Atacama desert, drier than the Sahara, they say, before even arriving in Santiago — still hundreds of miles of bad roads away from the earthquake zone.
The flight to Tacna detoured through Cusco, a lovely mountain city with pleasant hotels and first-class restaurants. I felt melancholy seeing the Inca capital disappear in the window as the plane lifted off for cheerless Tacna.
The border crossing was painless enough, and we found a genial taxi man, Andres, who knew how to cut corners. But the relentlessly harsh light and the gloomy milieu brought back memories of the Jordan-Iraq border crossing, a sinister place I had negotiated many times. This didn’t seem promising. The airport at Arica, on the Chilean side, looked like it had been left over from the dawn of aviation, preserved somehow in the dry heat. Missing were any sign of aircraft, or people.
We trudged into the terminal, sure that this was an exercise in futility. All the LAN counters were closed. But we noticed a few folks huddled at a side counter of Sky Airline, a regional carrier. We ambled up to the counter. A woman, apparently a passenger, passed by carrying a boarding pass for … Santiago!
Outside, beyond our view, an old Boeing workhorse was getting ready to take wing south to the Chilean capital. Yes, the woman at the counter said, there might be room for two more. Remarkably, completely unexpectedly, it all turned out to be true. Ten minutes later — a stop for a soft drink or a cigarette — and we would have missed this unscheduled flight, our deliverance, the freedom bird, as my colleague christened it. We boarded a near-full flight that was making final preparations to take off. It was like stepping into some alternate reality zone. Once aloft, we watched the narrow ribbon of an endless road south that we had fortuitously avoided. We were in Santiago in three hours.
It was time to start covering the devastation of the earthquake and a tsunami that followed, wreaking havoc.
More logistical challenges lay ahead.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell in Concepcion, Chile
Photo: The city of Constitucion, Chile, was hit hard by the earthquake and a tsunami. A store near the Plaza de Armas was little more than a pile of rubble. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times.
More of the Times coverage of the Chile earthquake: