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First-hand account from our correspondent in Port-au-Prince

3 min

FRANCE 24's special correspondent reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, gives an eyewitness account of the devastation.

January 18: Haiti's much-criticised government has begun to re-emerge to face the earthquake crisis, but the numerous challenges facing its people are overwhelming.

FRANCE 24's special correspondent Melissa Bell filed this report at 1:00pm Paris time (GMT+1) from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

"Until now [the Haitian government] had been notable for its absence, but today we saw Haitian firemen handing out water and Haitian diggers trying to remove some of the debris from the ministries," she says.

Special correspondent Melissa Bell reports from Port-au-Prince

According to Bell,  the relief effort is slowly moving to areas beyond the devastated capital. "They have concentrated so much on Port-au-Prince for the last few days, because the scale of the destruction has made it difficult to look beyond. But the rest of the country has also been touched," she adds.

"Elsewhere in the country, humanitarian aid is making its way very slowly – painfully slowly – to the people.

"The have been reports of looting, banditry and even killings in neighbouring towns. There are things that the outside world is not seeing.

“When you consider the mission of people who need food and medical care, all the things they have been living without, you start to get a sense of the challenge."

4:00pm Paris time (GMT+1) – Tensions are on the rise at the airport in Port-au-Prince.

“On the one hand, you have this extraordinary coordinated attempt by the Americans to get all the humanitarian aid in,” says Bell. Military and civilian aircraft full of aid are landing at regular intervals. “And it’s all really organised like clockwork.”

But she says the camps in which so many Haitians have been living still lack food, water and access to sanitation. “Humanitarian aid has been trickling in, but tension has been growing because it has taken such a long time.”  
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Crowds are forming at some airport entrances with people demanding help. At one point, Bell says UN peacekeepers at the main gate “were obliged, with the help of the US military, to push back the crowd” using teargas.

But the desperate Haitians were not deterred, says Bell.
“The crowd remained, and seemed determined to stay just where it is.”


9:00pm Paris time (GMT+1) – The power vacuum is a persistent problem, with no one fully in charge of the country.

“It is really a state of anarchy, no one is in control -- the government has [been] notable by its absence," Bell says. "Until this weekend, the Haitian authorities have been nowhere to be seen.”
This has started to change, she says, but only very slowly.
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When you have “an angry, hungry, thirsty population that wants answers and wants access to all the things that it needs, it’s an explosive cocktail”, says Bell.

And over the next few days, she says, "it’s likely to become an even trickier situation for the US military to manage”.
Since US soldiers have arrived to help with the relief effort, they’ve managed to take control of the airport. “But clearly, when they go into the city centre, they will have to tread very carefully,” Bell says. “They are, after all, on foreign soil.”


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