Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

City Center

In my first post, I reported on the warehouse area near the Port au Prince container port, and the devastated city center behind it. This is a supplement to that post, with images.

This overview shows the main harbor area, the container port and storage areas to the north, and the city center. I'll briefly discuss the warehouse area (near the center of the photograph), then go in to detail on the destruction found elsewhere.

I've rotated this image 90 degrees so the buildings look more realistic. I'll do this with all the remaining photographs as well. The main warehouse area contains mostly red-roofed buildings. The compound to the south has three buildings with writing on the top - "SOLIDARITE-HAITI-VENEZUELA". Actually, Venezuela's contributions to the rescue effort so far have been fairly small.

This blow-up shows part of the area in more detail. This is one of the areas with a major tent city, and shows the number of people wandering the streets. I'm sure the situation has changed in the last ten days, but I don't have any more recent imagery.

This is the first of several images showing the extent of the damage to the city center area of Port au Prince. I am using images of the first six blocks of the city center only. The damage extends for about 20 block to the east from this area. There are also significant other areas that have equal or greater damage, but I'm pushing Blogger's limitations on images as it is.

I do wish I had a decent map of Port au Prince, showing the names of the streets. Unfortunately I don't, so we'll have to just muddle through. If any one knows the street names, please feel free to let us know in the comments.

Some areas are more seriously damaged than others. The force of the shock from this earthquake appears to have been an up-and-down motion, rather than a shearing (left and right) motion. The structures of the buildings couldn't take the added force, and collapsed. The buildings themselves more or less collapsed straight down, like a stack of pancakes. This has made it difficult to dig people out from the rubble, as the upper floors of a building had collapsed onto the lower floors, with the bottom floors receiving the majority of the rubble. It will take years to completely remove all the debris from the city.

Many of the buildings that don't appear to be badly damaged from the images may be totally structurally unsound, may contain internal damage that doesn't show in the image, or may be relatively structurally sound, but have areas where the damage is significant enough the buildings are unsafe for people.

Everywhere you look in the city, there are dozens of trucks and hundreds of people, either trying to save what few possessions they can, or helping rescue those trapped inside buildings, or removing some of the rubble so emergency vehicles and aid can reach more parts of the city.

I wrote about this park on the waterfront in my first post. Here is a better-resolution image of the area.

Not only can you see the collapsed buildings, but the sidewalk near the ocean front is cracked and damaged.

Most of the major civilian hospitals were in the more built-up parts of the city, and suffered significant damage. There is no estimate of how many schools have been damaged, or how severe the damage to them might be. Currently, the only jobs for most Haitians in Port au Prince may be for rubble-removal. It will be difficult to impossible to begin rebuilding until the rubble and debris is cleared away.

The area I've covered in today's post is less than five percent of the total area of Port au Prince that was actually damaged by the earthquake. This doesn't include the damage to other towns and villages - Carrefour, Grassier, Saint Mesmin, Leogane, and dozens of others. Google Earth has not posted any updated imagery from Jacmel, which is stated to have been heavily damaged. Some of the more isolated villages in the mountains may not have even been reached for assessment yet.

Several people have commented that it may take ten years to rebuild Port au Prince. That may be an optimistic estimate.

As before, you can click on an image for a larger one. I also encourage everyone to read Chuck Simmins' "North Shore Journal", where they can find more information on the Haiti earthquake.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's Airport Day.

One of several favorable events following the Haiti earthquake that devastated most of the capital, Port au Prince, was that the international airport there wasn't badly damaged. The control tower was down, and there was damage to the passenger terminal, but the runway and offloading ramp were functional. That greatly speeded up getting first-responders into the city.

Unfortunately, the airfield only has one operational runway, and there is no room to add a second, temporary runway. Apparently the airfield is handling 125 or more flights a day, where its usual activity prior to the earthquake was six to ten flights a day.

Two other limiting factors is the difficulty of supplying the airport with fuel through the damaged harbor facilities, and ramp space.

This photo shows two C-130 aircraft (one US), one US C-17, a dozen or so smaller aircraft, and six to eight helicopters. The tent camp on the left side of the image probably houses the airfield personnel that keep supplies flowing into the airfield and out into the city, as well as keeping aircraft turn-around to a minimum.

All of the highways leading out of the airfield area are in good condition, and don't appear to have suffered any delay-causing damage.

This area, less than two miles from the airport, show some of the damage the people of Haiti are contending with.

The area on the left contains one of the many tent cities that have sprung up throughout the area. Close examination of the buildings on the right show several buildings that have collapsed into the streets.

If the photos appear too small to see detail, click on them for a full-size view.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Port at Port au Prince

This is a follow-up from yesterday's blog post. I hope to find a way to add images to this post.

Another of the many problems of getting supplies and rescue equipment to Port au Prince has been the damage to existing, minimum port facilities. I'm going to look at those today.

There are several areas that contribute to the overall port operations for Port au Prince, stretching from the Cite Soliel area to the north to the petroleum pier in Carrefour to the west. These facilities consist of:

  • a limited-use T-head pier in the Cite Soliel area. There doesn't appear to be any damage to this site.

  • a concrete wharf and pier forming a "U" north of the La Saline area. This facility also has an unbroken pipeline, and can offload petroleum products. There appears to be minor damage to a large building near the pier, but not to the pier and wharf themselves. There is an offloading crane at the wharf, although its operational capacity isn't known. The petroleum storage yard to the southeast appears to be intact.

  • the port facilities at La Saline, which appear to be moderately to severely damaged, and will require extensive clean-up and repair before it can be used. There are several ships docked here, but don't appear to be doing anything. The wharf at the container port shows extensive signs of damage. There are a half-dozen sunken ships in the area, some being used as mooring platforms. There are a half-dozen containers in the water near the wharf.

  • the main container port near the city center, which is badly damaged. The concrete aprons around the facility are extensively cracked and broken. The wharf itself slopes down into the water, and a few containers have tipped into the water. There appears to be some subsidence in the area, with several areas that appear to have subsided as much as ten feet. Two cranes are in the water, including the main container loading/unloading crane. There is at least one truck in the water, and three or four additional goods containers.

  • the city's main commercial pier, which appears to have suffered little or no damage, but appears to have limited capacity.

  • a small pier about two miles west of the downtown area that appears to be undamaged, but capable of being used by small vessels only.

  • a pier on the eastern edge of Carrefour that appears to be totally delapidated, with four sunken ships nearby. There is another pier nearby to the west that can probably service small boats.

  • a tanker pier that appears to have suffered moderate damage. There doesn't appear to be any leaking at this pier, or at the petroleum storage area nearby. The petroleum power plant nearby appears to have suffered little or no damage. There are several buildings in the general area that were totally destroyed.

  • a probable petroleum-only pier due north of the center of Carrefour that appears to be serviceable. There was a major pipeline spill from this area, probably from the pipe from the pier to the petroleum storage area to the south. Spilled petroleum can be seen on the beaches for four or five miles to the east and west of the pier. There is considerable damage to the support structure, and many damaged or destroyed buildings and homes nearby.

  • what appears to have been a pleasure pier to the west of the petroleum pier listed above, which has suffered moderate to severe damage, and is probably unusable even for small boats.
The nearest other commercially viable port in Haiti is at Miragoane. The date of the most recent imagery for this port on Google Earth is 2005.

Tomorrow I'll discuss the airport, and why bringing in relief supplies through that facility was so limited>

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Port au Prince, Haiti

I'm a former Air Force imagery analyst. I've been looking at the ground from 50 to 250,000 feet (or higher) since I was 19 (I'm currently 63). I've been trying to find an "official" group I could work with in support of Haiti relief efforts, because I have a strong urge to help, and identifying and reporting on the damage there, based on aerial imagery, is about the only thing this disabled veteran can do. I haven't been able to find much information about the absolutely unbelievable destruction on the ground there, so I thought I'd begin writing about it here. I'll try to write at least once a day about what I see. The imagery I'm using comes from Google Earth, and anyone interested in more detail need only email me at

First of all, earthquakes are funny things. Two buildings, side by side, exactly alike, can suffer unbelievably different damage from an earthquake. Secondly, much of the damage that exists may not show in aerial imagery, and will have to be determined by a ground survey. Thirdly, the imagery I'm using is anywhere from three days to three weeks out of date. I try to use the latest, but sometimes it's just not available.

There are several things that make delivering aid to Haiti difficult. The container port is badly damaged and basically unusable. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of containers scattered in lots around the container port. In most of those walled lots, at least some containers have been toppled from their normally neat stacks. There are a few trucks working as of the 21st to move containers, but only a few have actually gone anywhere.

Behind the container port are a half-dozen compounds containing red-roofed warehouse buildings. Most of these buildings appear to be unaffected by the earthquake. Almost all of the yards and the streets around them are filled with refugees - some in makeshift tents, some living out of their vehicles, others just walking the streets. Except for the main thoroughfares through and around the area, most of the the streets are impassible due to people and vehicles filling the streets from side to side, or debris from collapsed buildings.

Outside the warehouse area, the destruction begins. An area ten to twelve blocks wide and as many as 40 blocks long contains an immense number of damaged or destroyed buildings, with an occasional building apparently unscathed in their midst. This is the heart of the downtown area of Port au Prince. Debris from collapsed buildings fill many streets. Relief efforts are on-going, but the biggest job in the near future will be removing the rubble and cleaning up the debris from collapsed and damaged buildings.

Much of the damage is to large, multi-story buildings, but there is equal damage to single-story buildings and shanty-town homes. There is a large park near the harbor - the JJ Desalines statue is prominent there. There is a huge building nearly totally destroyed at the top of the park. Two or three large buildings around the area are also damaged or destroyed. Across the major highway are several embassies, most of which have suffered little or no damage.

Almost every open space is filled with tents of people who either have no home to go back to, or who are afraid of being inside ANY building. In the Morne a Tuff area, the number of damaged or destroyed buildings is higher than in many other parts of the city. Food aid has been brought to this area through one cleared (or partially cleared) street. At least a thousand people are camping on a soccer field at Croix a Bosalles. Nearby, several large commercial buildings are damaged, some severely.

Just north of the Port area are a series of three-story apartments, built on a square design. None of those apartments appear to have suffered damage, but to the south and east are building that have suffered fairly severe damage. Another park to the northeast is crowded with people living in makeshift tents.

The Chancerelles area (about halfway between the port and the airfield) of the city contains many buildings that appear to be undamaged, but many of the large warehouse-type building show roof damage. That means there is damage to the support architecture within the building itself, and it's unsafe to move around in.

The petroleum storage area and the adjacent diesel power plant north of the La Saline area appear to be undamaged, and the pier where petroleum products are offloaded appears to be serviceable. This will greatly help the city recover.

The airfield and the areas around it appear mostly undamaged. One of the major impediments to the speedy deployment of sufficient aid material was that the airfield only had one runway, and no place to build a second, temporary one.

Most of the damage occurred to the south and east of the area from the airport to the La Saline area of the city, but no part was completely spared. The damage is greater in some areas than others. Near the Hotel Montana, several hillside villages have been more or less totally wiped out. Damage is especially severe between Petion-Ville and Juvenaut, and between Nerette and Gros Morne. An area between Juvenaut and Bois Palate looks especially heavily damaged. The Fort National area has areas of heavy damage, and other areas that appear from imagery to be undamaged.

The main Government Office building is heavily damaged to the north, but only minor damage exists to the back half of the building. Several other multi-story buildings in the area are totally destroyed.

There is plenty of traffic, both into and out of Port au Prince. Even more surprising are the number of people walking everywhere. The entire downtown area is filled with people. Many are undoubtedly trying to find missing relatives, in need of medical attention, or looking for food or water. Many others are just walking around. More than a dozen field hospitals have been set up, mostly near the airport and into the downtown area. The real medical problem is going to be long-term problems with PTSD in its various forms.

Port au Prince wasn't the only area devastated by the earthquake. The string of small villages between Port au Prince, through Leogane and to the west were also badly hit. Leogane, Gressier, and Carrefour suffered major damage. The petroleum pier in Carrefour was damaged, and an oil spill has blackened beaches for five to ten miles in both directions. The spill has been stopped, but there is still oil in the waters around the area. The power plant in the area appears to have suffered only minor damage, but only an on-the-ground survey can tell for certain. Venturing to the south, about one in every ten buildings appear to be damaged, with some areas suffering five to seven times that much damage. To the west of Carrefore, there was a drainage canal being built under the major east-west highway. The area was apparently unfinished, and the runoff from the mountains to the south is beginning to pour across the street.

The damage in some smaller villages may appear moderate, but that could be deceptive. There is damage to the west and south of Leogane, but the imagery from about Leogane west is too old to show it. Google hasn't updated the imagery west of Leogane or south of Port au Prince to Jacmel, and all that's available is imagery from before the earthquake.

The easiest way to determine if there is damage in any of the small towns, or in Port au Prince itself, is to look for blue material being used as a makeshift tent. They're everywhere in the Port au Prince area, to Carrefour, to Leogane, to points south.

I'll try to go into some more in-depth reporting in another post.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Chuck Simmins, of North Shore Journal, is tracking the Haiti earthquake that devastated most of Port-au-Prince, the capital. He also has links to sites you can visit to offer aid. Chuck's site is worth bookmarking, with or without his attention to Haiti.