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The scene in Port-au-Prince

Haiti, January 17, 2010

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Communications and access are extremely limited after any earthquake, and this one is no exception. Text messaging is the most reliable form of communication, and we’ve been able to connect with a few people that way. We're doing our best to collect vast quantities of information, synthesize disparate reports and arrange logistics in an unfamiliar location under these conditions.

We got a good look at the earthquake’s destruction yesterday on the way to our current location — a meeting room inside a building owned by Voila, a local cell phone company and a subsidiary of Trilogy, a Seattle-based telecommunications company. (A colleague flew in last night on a military helicopter and has been camping on the crowded U.S. Embassy grounds with a number of search and rescue teams.)

The roads are passable, but there is a lot of rubble. Many buildings are flattened, and many more are dangerously unsound. In residential areas, people sleep on one side of the street at night while cars pass on the other. Other people who have lost their homes have set up rudimentary shelters with tarps and blankets in public areas. We’re told that some food is available, but all the banks are closed so people are running out of cash. Clean water is in short supply.

Although the dead have been cleared from the streets, many people remain buried in collapsed buildings. The streets are crowded with pedestrians, a large number of them wearing face masks or clutching rags to their nose and mouth. A man told me that you could hear people crying out for help in the collapsed buildings for the first 48 hours after the quake. Now there’s just silence.