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Haiti: 'Most people have nowhere to go'

By Sarah Smith

Updated on 15 January 2010

Communications in and out of Haiti are poor, but Channel 4 News Washington correspondent Sarah Smith managed to send a phone message from Port-au-Prince. This is a transcript of what she said.

A warning, Sarah Smith's report contains some distressing images.

As dawn broke over Port-au-Prince this morning it revealed the most astonishing sight, where everywhere you looked out in the open – in parks, squares, on the streets, in traffic – was a seething mass of humanity waking up.

Most of them had spent the night under tattered plastic sheets or ripped pieces of tarpaulin as makeshift shelter. Many of them had absolutely no shelter of any kind whatsoever, and they were just sleeping out in the open because most people here now have nowhere else to go.

So many of their homes have been destroyed, so many of the poorest people in this densely overcrowded, overpopulated city, that they’re all out on the street during the day.

Walking the streets
There are just thousands and thousands of people walking the street, many of them carrying what appears to be all the belongings they have left with them. And at night they have to bed down wherever they can.

In many cases that means not just in parks and squares. That means in the streets. We were driving through the streets after dark last night, carefully having to avoid entire families who were not on the pavement but in the middle of the road.

For more Channel 4 News coverage of the Haiti earthquake
- 16 Jan 2010: TV crew rescues toddler in Haiti
- 14 Jan 2010: Bodies pile up as aid effort pledged
- 14 Jan 2010: Satellite images of devastation

And right next to them, in many cases, were other piles of bodies, also wrapped in blankets and bedsheets. But these were corpses, causing a major health hazard to everybody who is out in this city.

Something urgently needs to be done about all the bodies that are piled up in the streets. But as no official help seems to have come to deal with the problem, people are starting to do it for themselves.

Bodies to burn
Yesterday we witnessed a ferocious argument between two groups of people, arguing about a corpse... (inaudible) Half of them said they should burn it – and had a bottle of petrol ready. The other half wanted to bury it – and eventually they prevailed, and the corpse was taken off and flung in a pit with a pile of other corpses.

A very undignified way to deal with the dead, but there isn’t much choice here at the moment.

Last night we even saw garbage trucks out, and people were slinging dead bodies into the backs of the trucks as though they were sacks of refuse, because there is no other way to get rid of them. And if they’re not cleared up, then far greater trouble could ensue.

Getting aid through
People need water, they need food, they need shelter – and they need supplies pretty quickly. We saw tonnes and tonnes of aid arriving at the airport yesterday. We haven’t seen it arrive on the streets where people need it yet.

Hopefully today will be the day that people start getting the things that they desperately need, because if they don’t get them soon the mood here could start to turn very ugly.

All night we could hear people singing last night, to keep themselves entertained through the night as they were camped out in the street. But that "Kumbaya" mood could very easily turn extremely nasty if people don’t get at least food and water and get the sanitation sorted out really quite urgently.

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