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.

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 Thirdly, the imagery I'm using is anywhere from three days to three weeks out of date.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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