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In Port-au-Prince, Scenes of Death Still Pervasive

January 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Margaret Warner talks to Martin Smith of Frontline about Haiti's economic forecast after last week's massive earthquake.
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MARGARET WARNER: Martin Smith, thank you for joining us.

The two pieces we just saw from ITN suggests it’s a real patchwork down there now, in terms of who is getting aid and who isn’t. Is that what you’re finding?

MARTIN SMITH: Well, it is.

And it is certainly not coordinated. And if anybody is getting it, it seems to be getting through to people in spite of efforts to coordinate the aid. We heard a lot of complaints. I just came from a hospital where everybody had been moved into the courtyard because of the last earthquake, the tremors that happened yesterday, afraid to stay in the building.

And everybody there complained newborn babies had no formula, nobody had the right supplies, and, furthermore, it wasn’t coordinated. I was in refugee camps where there were complaints that they had no water, they were drinking bad water and getting dysentery.

And downtown yesterday, the looting was rampant. Obviously, those people are strong enough and getting some water, or they wouldn’t be able to loot as they are. So, it’s — it’s hard to know where the aid is. You don’t see aid being distributed on the streets, or we haven’t seen it in the days we have been all around the area.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about in the refugee camps? Is there any aid distribution set up there? We saw — we have seen footage of a tent city, I guess, out on a golf course, where the U.S. military does seem to be giving out aid.

MARTIN SMITH: There are places, I’m told. And I know from talking to people in refugee camps, in these tent cities, that water trucks do come by. And I did see one water truck in a neighborhood delivering water, people lined up, getting their cans filled up with water.

I haven’t seen food being distributed. Now, I should say that you do see the markets coming back to life, and people buying, if they have money, if they — many people say they have money, but it’s in the bank. They can’t get it out of the banks, because the banks are either collapsed or closed.

So, it’s — as you say, it’s a patchwork. It’s hard to know how to make do. People are getting food, sharing food with neighbors. But, right now, everybody that I spoke to, even people in the military and then doctors, complain about the lack of coordination.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, one of the early obstacles to delivering the aid, we were told by U.S. officials, was just all the debris that was in the streets. It was so hard to get delivery vehicles out. Has any of that been cleared away? Are the streets more passable?

MARTIN SMITH: The one thing you do see is garbage trucks picking up some of the lighter trash on the streets. We have seen a few of those.

And you see quite a few of the big backhoes, if you will, and cranes and bulldozers picking up large amounts of — of rubble and clearing streets. We have found most of the streets passable. Sometimes, a building has collapsed and blocked half of the street, causing traffic jams. But, for the most part, that work is going on.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you mentioned looting and that you observed looting. Is there any sign of law enforcement, whether Haitian or international forces, and are they doing anything to control it?

MARTIN SMITH: You know, I have covered a lot of conflict zones, and I have never seen anything quite like we saw on the streets downtown yesterday.

And, apparently, it’s gotten worse day by day. The looting was — it was a free-for-all. The cops, the police were there. I talked to them. They said, look, we can’t do anything about this. We can fire our rifles into the air if we want to disperse the crowd, but it’s all temporary.

I said, does the commander give you orders as to what to do? No, and nor was there any presence of Marines or soldiers or of — or U.N. folks there. The looting was — it was just a wild free-for-all, with corpses still lying in the streets, people stepping over them with boxes. It’s hard to imagine the horror of it, but it was something like I have never seen before.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Martin, what about the corpses? What about all these dead bodies, tens of thousands of them? What is happening to them? And who’s doing it?

MARTIN SMITH: We wanted to get a handle on this, as other journalists have, as to how many bodies, if anybody is counting how many bodies, there are.

We went out to the dump north of — outside of town, and, there, they have dug a lot of mass graves. And the trucks come in, you know, several an hour, dumping rubble. And mixed into that rubble are bodies. We saw them dumping those bodies. We saw them picking up the rubble on the streets with the bodies in it.

But there’s nobody at that central point that’s counting those bodies. And since trucks are coming from all over Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area and up and down the south coast, if nobody’s at that central point where the bodies are being dumped, there’s nobody that can really have a handle on exactly how many people have — have died.

MARGARET WARNER: Martin Smith of “Frontline,” thank you.

MARTIN SMITH: Thank you, Margaret.