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Bad Weather Rips Through Haiti 'Safe Haven'
July 14, 2010

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The Haitian Earthquake

Six months after a devastating killed hundreds of thousands of people, Haitian residents are still suffering.

One of the few "safe" spots has been a main relocation camp near Corail-Cesselesse, about 15 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, where the bulk of the earthquake damage occurred. In April, U.N. peacekeepers, U.S. military personnel, famous people (like actor Sean Penn), and a host of other volunteers helped move 7,000 people to this supposed "safe haven," away from the ripping forces of the rains and winds promised by the coming hurricane season. The area had security, paved gravel roadways, and a few other amenities that put it a cut above the makeshift "tent cities" that sprang up in the days and weeks after the January 12 7.0-magnitude quake.

That strategy seemed to have been a bit in error, as a summer storm tore through the relocation camp, leveling temporary buildings and knocking out the solar-powered streetlights that have been (in more ways than one) a bright spot in this otherwise dismal story.

Nearly 2,000 people fled in the wake of ultra-high winds that picked up tent poles and sent them flying through the air. Only six people were reported injured by nearby hospitals, but the true number of injured was undoubtedly higher than that.

Also coming to light was the area's feasibility as a long-term living area, given the relative sparsity of trees and other vegetation, not to mention food supplies and employment opportunities. The idea had been that the residents would stay a few months and then be able to return home; but delays in nearly every phase of the recovery have plagued exhausted workers. Then, the Haitian government targeted the area for more permanent living and working space – an idea that might well be questioned after this latest incursion by the weather.

Haitian President Rene Preval marked the six-month anniversary of the devastating quake by celebrating the efforts of rescue workers, who collectively have saved hundreds of lives. The ceremony took place in the shadow of the National Palace, itself a grim reminder of the damage wrought by the earthquake. In attendance were Penn and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, both of whom have worked extensively in the area for many weeks.

Six months later, the number of temporary camps remains very, very high. Some estimates put that number higher than one thousand. The number of homeless is thought to be well above 1 million. Aid continues to stream in, now that the port has been repaired and the airway expanded to accept more flights. Whether the country continues to recover and enter what Preval hopes will be a reconstruction phase remains to be seen.

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