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April 8th, 2010
11:53 PM ET

Dispatch from Port-au-Prince: Waiting for the rains

Program Note: Don't miss Gary Tuchman's report from Haiti tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Justine Redman and Gary Tuchman
AC360°

It rained the other night. Everyone here's been waiting for the rain...fearfully. Once the rainy season is here, life in rubble-strewn Port-au-Prince will change for everyone.

For two hours we watched the downpour, and wondered what it was doing to the tent cities, where thousands and thousands of people sleep on bare dirt, under shelters made out of any bit of plastic they could find, liable to wash away in a mudslide. No matter where you are in this city, rain will spread mud and disease through the often unpaved streets where a sewer system is a dream, and most people do not have running water. The city stinks already, and it's going to get worse.

But the next morning, we found ourselves back in a dust bowl. The previous night's shower was nothing more than a taste of what's to come. We went to a track of land in the countryside which is being prepared by bulldozers for the resettlement of many of the residents of those tents cities, the people who have nothing left to go home to, but can't keep living where they are.

AC360° producer Justine Redman, Sean Penn and AC360° Gary Tuchman in Haiti.

AC360° producer Justine Redman, Sean Penn and AC360° Gary Tuchman in Haiti.

The land is barren and scrubby, the ground is deep with dust. It's desert, but we were almost relieved by the harshness; this weekend Haitian and international authorities are hoping to start busing hundreds of tent city inhabitants out here to pitch their tents. What a welcome it would be to land in mud past your ankles. Instead, bulldozers and dump trucks raced the clock, spreading rocks and gravel over the dust, trying to build a sturdier base for the thousands of new homes.

Next we went back into town, to the former golf club which has become Port-au-Prince's biggest and most dangerous tent city. Dangerous, because as many as 60 thousand people are living in tents on extremely steep hillsides, and as soon as the rains come, disaster is expected. That's what the rush is about, as campers shovel busily, digging channels for the water to run off through, and stack up sand bags to help hold back the dirt.

At the center of the frenzy is Sean Penn, sometimes actor, but now deeply entrenched in the logistics of managing this vast site and advocating for its residents in the resettlement efforts. Penn's NGO (J/P Haitian Relief Organization) has coordinated the food drops and medical clinics and schools and social services which have turned this hillside into a community, but now he wants to get everyone out.

We tour the camp with him for our report, he shows us the black spots, and talks about his frustration of dealing with all the bureaucracies of the governments, the international organizations, the charities ... all the people who are there to help, but in the end, getting everyone on the same page for a mammoth operation like resettlement has taken time.

It's been nearly three months of talking about resettlement, working on finding the land and setting it up, figuring how to make people at home there. As everyone waits for the rains, most people involved in the camps are hoping time doesn't run out.


Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Haiti Earthquake • Justine Redman
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Kornelia Strong

    Sean Penn is not only a great actor, he is also an admirable humanitarian. It's refreshing. . . .
    My heart and prayers are with the people of Haiti.

    April 9, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  2. Katie

    Haiti needs permanent housing solutions, not tent cities. One of the most viable resettlement options to avoid the imminent flooding dangers are the container houses constructed from shipping containers, currently being organized through the Give Love Foundation. I would be very interested in a segment on this group, and their involvement with L'Atheletique Haiti in Cite Soleil.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  3. Susie Milton

    There's an organization who can train the locals to build shelters for families in one day. The shelters are waterproof. Graded to withstand earthquakes (200%). Materials, barb wire, dirt filled bags and coated to be water proof and windows. Is anyone interested?

    April 8, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  4. Wendy

    I think the reason why people are stuck where they are is because there is no aid coming. I recently read an article on American Red Cross raised 334 miilion dollars and only used 106 million and the rest was used to pay thier debt. The people of haiti need aid....

    April 8, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  5. Claudia Carroll

    Thanks again for this update on Haiti; admire both Penn, and the CNN team who continue to bring this humanity story to these pages and the screen. Feeling helpless at not being able to help, and guilty for living in comfort, such as it is, a senior on soc. sec, but at that so much better off, so very much better off that our Haitian neighbors.

    April 8, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Jennifer

    There is ample housing in Kangbashi, Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. How about anyone in Haiti who wants to live they way deserve gets to live in China until the rains stop, or forever?

    Who would be a good choice to secure transportation by air and sail, and deal with the economics involved? I am thinking Bill Clinton and Dubya. Does Jimmy Carter happen to need something to do?

    April 8, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Hope the work for this site gets done in time for the people to move before the rains begin in earnest. If it doesn't the mudslides and flooding from the rains may claim a greater number of victims than the earthquake did. Kudos to Sean Penn for staying long after most of everyone else has gone home and trying to get these people in a safer place.

    April 8, 2010 at 8:41 pm |