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O'Brien: Desperation abounds in the streets of Port-au-Prince

By Soledad O'Brien and Rose Arce, CNN
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Tent cities in Port-au-Prince
  • Tens of thousands of people sleeping in Port-au-Prince's streets, parks
  • Sheets, blankets serve as the only shelter for many after earthquake
  • Trash is backing up in the streets; children cry from wounds, hunger
  • A woman screamed to us: "We need help. Haiti needs help now."
  • Haiti
  • Port-au-Prince
  • Earthquakes

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Five days after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, the fear of going back inside has subsided. But the plazas and the parks are still full.

For tens of thousands of displaced Haitians, there is no place to call home but the streets.

We walked through a sprawling camp outside the presidential palace, which is itself pancaked and shut. There was enough water there Sunday for some of the children to get a bath, scrubbed with kitchen soap, exposed to the crowds.

A garbage truck picked up some of the trash. A small clinic treated children with wounds. There was a little bit of food.

But this is not camping. These people live there, in streets full of garbage, under a very hot sun, with little hope and lots of desperation. A woman screamed to us: "We need help. Haiti needs help now." She introduced us to a man who is not moving, just laying listless in the grass. A child next to him broke into a seizure as we spoke.

At the makeshift clinic, a boy had a foot that was mangled, toes missing. It was bandaged in a bloody, dirty strip of gauze. His head lay in his friend's lap as he waited for medics facing a line of wounded people. There was no sign of antibiotics or splints.

Families are living beneath blankets and sheets, sleeping on concrete or grass. Little children cry from injuries and hunger. Bugs float in the hot air. Trash is backing up, and the smell is awful.

We scaled a viewing tower built by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 to get a wider look at the desperation. From on high, the city looks wounded. Smoke rises in places. Entire streets are closed by rubble.

Everywhere, you see tents in the open spaces. Some are red and gray shiny Coleman tents given out during last year's hurricane. They look like bright little push pins on a vast map of destruction.

We had flown in on a helicopter from the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo, with actor Vin Diesel.

He sponsors a film program for young Haitians trying to record impoverished lives on their fragile island. He works with Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean and the Dominican president, Leonel Fernandez. Their hopeful project now finds them on a rescue mission. It was very quiet on that helicopter.

We swung over Port-au-Prince and everyone craned their necks to see below. The hope was that it wouldn't be so bad, that the earthquake had left behind places where people could go home. But no. There are all these sections where parks and plazas used to be that are now crammed with people.

Port-au-Prince's streets now house the homeless.