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Survivor: Without vital port, 'We'll starve to death, that's all'

By Arthur Brice, CNN
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Main port in Haiti destroyed
  • Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake severely damaged Port-au-Prince's harbor
  • Workers say sea shipments are vital for Haitians' survival
  • Without the port, "We'll just starve to death," trucker warns

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Raymond Thomas is a jolly man who laughs easily and likes to say "Forget it" a lot.

He'd like to forget the devastation wrought at the Port-au-Prince harbor where his fleet of trucks used to pick up cargo.

Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake sent a quarter-mile pier crumbling into the sea along with two of his trucks. The few workers who went into the water swam to safety, Thomas said, but the port remains shut down, and desperately needed aid cannot be unloaded quickly.

"Now we're just starving to death," he said, worried that the airport and smaller harbors cannot handle the necessary volume of relief supplies.

"That was the whole country right there," he added, pointing at two toppled cranes on the remains of the pier that stand out against the clear-blue sky.

Thomas owns Raymond and Sons Trucking, a fleet of 35 trucks that haul cargo from the port. The company employed about 50 employees, all of them now out of work.

"I'm out," Thomas said.

The port won't be back for a while. Roads have been split apart and buckled, fences have fallen over.

"Oh, forget it," Thomas said. "Forget it. It might take a year to rebuild it. Forget it."

Yet he feels fortunate because although his home was destroyed and his business is shattered, no one in his family died in the quake.

Asked what happened, he demurs with a hearty laugh. "Forget it," he says. "I don't want to talk about it."

He then relents, calling his family's survival "a miracle."

His wife was outside their house and he was driving home in his red 1995 Honda CRV sport utility vehicle.

Video: Supplies delivered to Haiti
Video: Haiti aid in limbo
Video: US carrier picks up aid for Haiti
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Port-au-Prince

"I felt like the whole car was going to take off like an airplane," he said, laughing.

He wasn't wearing a seat belt, he admits.

"This is Haiti. In Miami, I wear a seat belt." Another laugh.

Thomas' 40-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and her 15-month-old son had just left earlier that afternoon to return to her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Asked if it was a miracle that she missed the quake by such a short time, he laughs again, saying, "You bet your sweet heart."

On Friday, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest after someone tried to rob him the day before. Someone wanted to take his cell phone he said, and the port is near the roughest part of town.

For now, Thomas and his wife are sleeping in a tent.

And for now, also, his mind is on the port. He's not alone.

Tug boat owner Roger Rouzier also seem a dim future without the port.

"We cannot receive the help by plane," Rouzier said Friday. "We need to receive help by boat."

Rouzier estimates that before the earthquake, more than 70 ships each unloaded about 8,000 tons of material every month.

"I personally unload three or four a day," he said. "The whole country depends on this port. If we're going to save people, we have to do it by boat."

Without the port, Thomas sees serious consequences for Haiti, one of the poorest nations on Earth.

"We'll starve to death, that's all," he said. "We'll just starve to death."

And it won't take long for trouble to reach the streets, he said. Especially since many of the nation's criminals escaped when Port-au-Prince's prison collapsed in the quake.

"Very soon we're going to have a riot," Thomas said, this time not laughing.

How soon?

"I don't give you a week," he said.

No laugh there either.

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