17 Jan 2010

The journey to Haiti

Channel 4 News producer Hannah Storm describes her car journey across the Dominican Republic towards earthquake-hit Haiti.

As Jon Snow arrives in Haiti, Hannah Storm, one of the Channel 4 News producers travelling with him, blogs about their journey across the Dominican Republic:

After a little over 24 hours in the Dominican Republic, we are heading to the border with Haiti.

We have met up with our colleagues and two security guards and our two cars have set off to the frontier town of Jimani. I have dusted off my best Spanish and managed to persuade the owner of the only hotel there to let the six of us sleep on her floor. There is no other room at this inn. But that’s a long way off still.

We travel through towns that would not be out of place in the Wild West. And the further west we go, the wilder it gets.

We have one hair-raising episode where we inadvertently stray the wrong way down a one way street. We learn our lesson noisily. In other towns, huge potholes stall our progress and test our bladders and the suspension of our 4×4.

Dogs and children run across the dusty roads. Bars and buses, brimming with people, compete with each other to see who can make the most noise.

As I see girls in tiny skirts and men in smart trousers outside gaudily painted bars, I remember it is Saturday night and wonder what my friends are doing thousands of miles away where it most certainly isn’t 84 degrees as it is here. Two hours out of Santo Domingo, we spot a Red Cross van and know where it is headed.

A little later, we hit a convoy of what seems like dozens of burgundy vans each emblazoned with a gold lion. I wonder what they are carrying and to whom they belong.

For a while, on this narrow unlit windy road, we are forced to go slow and we briefly contemplate staying with the convoy to see if it crosses the border. But we don’t know where exactly it is going and therefore reject that idea as possibly unsafe.

We speed up again, before we are forced once more to slow by a Dominican sleeping policeman, which seems rather bigger and more brutal than the British version.

Heading in the other direction are numerous ambulance-type vehicles with flashing lights, presumably evacuating wounded Haitians.

We wonder what we will see at the border. We have heard reports of large numbers of refugees amassing there and my colleague who is already in Port-au-Prince says she has heard there were minor and sporadic attacks on aid trucks during the day on the Haitian side of the border.

We have hidden the water we are carrying and the fuel, but still that thought concerns me a little.

Three and a half hours after leaving Santo Domingo, the potholes are wearing us down.

We pull in at a petrol station just as it is closing. It is guarded by an old chap with a shotgun who approaches us as a young man in a tight vest jumps out of a car which is pumping out seriously loud music and waves a $20 bill at the petrol attendant.

There’s no unleaded petrol here, but the short break and the toilet provide great relief, even if the neighbours provide a slightly surreal air.

Back in the car, feeling every bump in the deteriorating road, I wonder what tomorrow will bring.