A grim scene

By Caroline Gluck
We need help," reads a sign in a Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, neighborhood, January 15, 2010.

A Christmas tree with tinsel lay forlornly on the ground with what looked like  small presents around that had scattered onto the floor. Next to it, a table was laid out with plates, food and cutlery as though the family were ready to come back for dinner. I could see all this clearly as the front wall of the house had exploded and was pushed out onto the street exposing the family dining room.

It had been like this for the last three days, ever since Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit by a devastating earthquake, said my colleague. Whether the inhabitants of the house, surrounded by collapsed buildings and debris, would ever come back was quite another question.

It's estimated that two million people were affected by the massive earthquake that hit the Haitian capital earlier this week. Thousands are thought to have been killed, many were injured and the rest of the city's dazed residents are still reeling from the shock of it all.

Many walk the streets, some barefoot, balancing on their heads bags containing what belongings they could grab before they fled and clutching plastic containers for water. Large numbers are also wearing masks to stop inhaling the thick grey smoke that lingered long after the quake. The masks also offered some protection from the thick stench of dead bodies that lined the streets in the immediate aftermath of the quake and are still turning up wrapped in sheets or pieces of clothing.

It's feared that as many as 100,000 may have been killed in the earthquake while others are still trapped under the debris of collapsed buildings.

Some foreign search and rescue crews who had been working to recover those trapped under wrecked buildings at what was the capital's top hotel, the Montana, told me that cries could still be heard from those buried beneath the rubble across the capital.

Some aid is now getting through to the city. Much of it is coming by truck from the neighboring Dominican Republic. Some supplies have started to be flown in via the capital's airport which was affected by the quake and has reopened for humanitarian flights after several days of closure

The aid agency Oxfam is flying in emergency experts and is starting to distribute water at some of the large makeshift camps that have sprung up at parks and outdoor areas and hospitals.

The needs are enormous as most basic services just aren't functioning. At the best of times, daily life in Haiti for the 80 percent or so of the population who have to live on less than two dollars a day, is a daily struggle.

The impact of the quake has made things even worse.

Haiti needs more than a quick fix of emergency aid. It will be many years before the country can really get back on its feet again and fully recover from this massive shock.

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