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Haiti Tourist Town A Casualty Of Quake

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

We go now to Jacmel. It's a city about 20 miles south of the capital. Before the earthquake, it was a jewel on Haiti's southern coast. It had colorful French colonial architecture, and tourists flocked to its quiet beaches. Today, a lot of Jacmel is in ruins. It wasn't until Friday, three days after the earthquake, that emergency help finally arrived in Jacmel.

NPR's Greg Allen is there. And Greg, why did it take three days for help to begin arriving in Jacmel?

GREG ALLEN: Well, Madeleine, what I've seen is, before this and other disasters like Katrina, you know, you always think aid should arrive immediately, but it just - logistically it takes some time to get it off the ground and here. Here in Jacmel, people the day after the earthquake and on Thursday, were saying where is the aid? It did start arriving on Friday and by now, the USAID has got steady shipments coming in here. The airport is now open to relief flights 24 hours a day. There are aid groups here providing food, water and other support. And you have - the Canadian Navy is here with a ship offshore. They just arrived last night. And they've started deploying troops around town who are basically just cleaning up the streets, making the streets passable to traffic.

BRAND: And Greg, you came from Port-au-Prince, where we've seen images of terrible destruction and disaster. How do you compare it to Jacmel?

ALLEN: Well, I came to Jacmel prepared for a city in ruins and there certainly are ruins here. The old part of the city is demolished. But in terms of the devastation we saw, it's nothing compared to what we saw in Port-au-Prince, where neighborhood after neighborhood you have dead bodies still trapped in rubble. You have, you know, bodies on the street. You have mass graves. There's nothing like that here. Most of the dead, I'm told, have already been pulled from the rubble. There is a school that they had - believe might have as many as a couple of hundred students in it still., They have not been able to get in there and get the bodies.

So, the death toll is right now, they're saying, in the hundreds. And the streets don't look anywhere near as bad as they are in Port-au-Prince. Also, the encampments are much smaller and much more livable than the ones we're seeing spring up in Port-au-Prince.

BRAND: And what has happened to these famous buildings, this beautiful colonial architecture?

ALLEN: Well, you know, Jacmel was a city that's built on the south coast of Haiti, right on the sea. And just up from the water, you have the old part of the city. It's built on sand, they say. The upper part of the city is built on rock. And that other upper part of the city, most of the residential areas, they came through it much better. The old part of the city, the buildings were very old from - the mid-19th century - and many of them just totally collapsed. And almost every case, there was severe damage. You've got - iron balustrades have fallen off the building, whole walls have collapsed, and whole streets are just filled with rubble. And it will take an amazing amount of work to get this place back on its feet again.

BRAND: And you said earlier that there was a Canadian ship docked offshore, providing aid. Why has Jacmel become the focus of Canadian aid?

LLEN: There are historic ties between Canada and Jacmel. Apparently, some Canadian officials trace their heritage here. And I think partly because of that, Haiti asked Canada to make Jacmel the focus of their aid efforts. And, of course, it is an important city. It's Haiti's fourth largest city. It's a very important cultural jewel. And the Canadians are here, already on the ground, and look to be - like they're going to be doing what they can to help bring it back.

BRAND: A lot of people in the capital, in Port-au-Prince, have been leaving the city because they're not getting any help and they're looking for some aid and looking for shelter. Are they coming to Jacmel?

ALLEN: We went over to the bus station here in Jacmel, and buses are arriving steadily every hour, unloading lots of people from Port-au-Prince. We talked to people who got off, and they said, of course, I'm going back to my home. Anyone who's from the provinces is getting out of Port-au-Prince and going back to where they're from. If you have any family ties anywhere, they say people will leave the city and go back to where their family are in the provinces. They think that's a better way to survive. So, we're just starting today to see an influx here in Jacmel.

In Port-au-Prince, we're seeing many people get - at the bus stations leaving the city. It will be interesting to see what happens to these provincial towns and small villages in the months ahead as people leave Port-au-Prince. Their services and their facilities could be overtaxed. And that's something we will have to watch.

BRAND: Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

BRAND: That's NPR's Greg Allen. He is in Jacmel, a city on the southern coast of Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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