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In Haiti, Scenes of Despair and Devastation

January 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Hari Sreenivasan speaks with journalist Ansel Herz who has lived in Haiti for the past four months and was on the scene of the disaster in Port-au-Prince.
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JIM LEHRER: Now a view from Port-au-Prince.

Hari Sreenivasan spoke earlier today, through a Skype video connection, with freelance journalist Ansel Herz. He’s been a radio reporter in Haiti for the past four months.

We started by asking him to describe the last 24 hours.

ANSEL HERZ: Extremely hectic and crazy.

Since the earthquake struck, I basically left my house, which shook quite a bit, but thank God did not fall, unlike many of the multistory houses and buildings in the neighborhood, which — which have fallen.

I have basically just been in the streets shooting footage and talking to people. I made a point of trying to get downtown and seeing the national palace, for example, which has collapsed in on itself in different spots. Also, the headquarters of the international peacekeeping force here has basically collapsed entirely. And, so, the peacekeepers are really occupied, I think, with a lot of their own personnel who have died.

People are basically in the streets trying to stay away from buildings and walls and things that could collapse. They’re — they’re trying to survive at this point. There’s not much in the way of rescue efforts, really nothing in the way of official rescue efforts that I have seen in the streets.

And I think Haitians are just trying to come together to help each other out. I have seen a lot of people trying to be pulled from the rubble, from buildings, throughout Port-au-Prince.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You said there’s a lot of people still out on the streets. Are they just too afraid to go into their homes? Have there been a lot of aftershocks?

ANSEL HERZ: Yes, actually, the last aftershock that I felt was just a few minutes ago. I really did not expect to feel that, because, before that, the previous one was at midnight. So, I think we went most of this past day without feeling any aftershocks. But feeling another one actually just a few minutes ago was — was scary.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the status of emergency services there? Are there any police on the streets? Are they any ambulances trying to get people to hospitals? What’s the state of hospitals, if you — if you have been near one?

ANSEL HERZ: I haven’t been inside a hospital, but I have seen a few. They do seem to be operating, but the hospitals here in Port-au-Prince already are notorious for just being understaffed and sometimes unreliable and crowded.

And in terms of emergency relief efforts out in the streets, I really saw none in terms of the peacekeepers being able to start to pull people from rubble or start reconstruction or provide shelter, or aid agencies, NGOs, the Haitian government. I saw no official relief efforts in the streets while I was out there in downtown or in Cite Soleil.

I just did see a lot of Haitians, ordinary Haitians, trying to pull people out from the National Cathedral, for example. There was a woman there who was basically crushed beneath a door, which was just open a crack, and so people were swinging with pickaxes to try to pry that open.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

ANSEL HERZ: A lot of schools collapsed, and so people are searching for children that may be still alive beneath the rubble. But, you know, again in terms of emergency relief from official agencies, I have really seen nothing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You have spoken to people out there. What’s the sentiment? I mean, are they resigned? Are they frustrated at the lack of any sort of official resources to come in and help? Are they just trying to find their relatives? What’s — what are they saying?

ANSEL HERZ: People are — are trying to survive. You know, some people who I spoke to just didn’t really have anything to say. I think they’re sort of in a state of shock. It’s just kind of crazy.

You know, Haiti — Haiti doesn’t deserve this at all. And I think people are just trying to survive at this point. I don’t think there’s really much expectation that the government can do a lot to help, because the government here is relatively weak. It doesn’t have a lot of resources in terms of being able to help people out.

You know, in terms of ambulances trying to rescue people, I have seen probably three or four driving throughout the streets in the past 24 hours, you know, so that’s not many. And I just think people are really not — not sure what’s going to happen. They’re not sure who they can — who they can rely on in terms of the government or aid agencies or other nations.

You know, I heard people say that they — they just — they want help from whoever can provide it.