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Thursday in Port-au-Prince

Haiti, January 21, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

News and observations from today in Port-au-Prince:

Food distributed: We distributed high-energy biscuits provided by the UN World Food Program to patients, family members and staff at Haiti's largest hospital. People were relieved and happy to see us. It was a little bit difficult to gauge the reaction of the patients because so many of them had undergone surgery or were in body casts, but their family members were definitely grateful. Hospital officials told us they've been very short on food. And the people who received the biscuit package opened it immediately and started eating it, so you could tell they were hungry.

Banks reopen: One thing exciting to see was that some of the banks reopened today. Not every bank -- some had structural damage, some have totally collapsed -- but today was the first day any bank had been open since the earthquake. And the lines were a mile long. You could tell people had been living without access to financial services for over a week.

This means a lot to the aid effort, because there are a lot of people in Port-au-Prince who have some money -- maybe not a lot -- but they were having to live on handouts simply because they couldn't access their money. People having access to their bank accounts will reduce some of the pressure on aid. Some people will not need assistance as much now because they can access their money, and we can focus on getting assistance to those most in need.

Commerce in the street: When I first got here, there was no activity. Now, people are selling stuff -- I've seen people selling bananas, mangos, crackers .... The stores aren't open, but people are selling basic foods in the streets. It's a good sign.

Aftershocks heighten anxiety: We two fairly significant aftershocks today, both powerful enough so people were running out of their homes. I was in the CNN studio when the first one hit, and we all ran out into the courtyard. We went back inside, another one hit, and we ran out again. People are not taking the aftershocks lightly. In some neighborhoods, people have taken bricks and stones from rubble and extended their property line into the street about five feet, and that's where they're putting all their stuff, bedrolls, etc. Even people in the most upscale neighborhoods are sleeping outside, because they're afraid to stay inside their homes.

Still in shock: I've asked a lot of people what they plan to do next, and honestly I've yet to meet anyone thinking along those lines. They're still shell-shocked; they don't know what to do. And you would be, too: There are tons and tons and tons of rubble, and there are rotting bodies everywhere. People are picking through the rubble and simply trying to organize their things.