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O'Brien: Rain, aftershocks compound misery in Haiti

By Soledad O'Brien and Rose Arce, CNN
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A walk through Haiti's streets
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Soledad O'Brien and her crew return to Port-au-Prince more than a month after quake
  • At first, they see signs of optimism among the people
  • A torrential rain and sharp aftershocks quickly squelch the new-found hope
  • Misery continues to stalk people who are weary of battling nature's harsh realties
RELATED TOPICS
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Port-au-Prince

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- We had not been in Port-au-Prince in a month, not since those horrible days following the earthquake when the city looked like wreckage.

The city seemed so upbeat when we arrived Saturday morning on one of the first flights in since commercial airlines resumed service. Musicians wearing Western Union T-shirts greeted us near the hanger that now passes as baggage claim. Next to our hotel, street vendors peddled souvenirs outside a tent city surrounding the presidential palace.

But those optimistic signs were eclipsed Sunday night when a torrent of rain poured down on this wounded city where outdoor tent communities have sprouted up in every empty space. Then, just after 4:30 a.m. Monday, an aftershock of magnitude 4.75 shook and shook and finally gave a last forceful jerk before stopping. You could hear the wails on the street, the confused voices of people arguing over whether to stay outside or risk going back in.

This one-two punch of natural forces reverberated through the most vulnerable communities.

Full coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti

Ariana Manassero, 17, raced into the main room of her home following the tremor. Her parents direct the Maison de Lumiere, but the girls' home is unstable, so Ariana watches over the little ones at her house. They immediately started screaming. "When is it going to end?" she asked before spending her day coddling some very traumatized children.

Daphne, 4, clung to Ariana, shaking, acting out, sobbing for no good reason. The big quake on January 12 had rattled a cinder block wall in her play yard, crushing her leg, which now has a cherry red cast. The aftershock left her completely undone.

All day, staff members of Maison surveyed the damage to their community. A tent city they helped build across from their school had puddles of water sitting in the "homes."

Women ran up to the staff asking for food, new tarps and clean water for their children. The same scene unfolded in a nearby ravine whose inhabitants had attended a Sunday morning service at Maison. That day, women from the ravine had come escorting children who'd been washed with soap and rain water. Singing and laughing had filled the air.

By Monday, the heavy rain had soaked their tents where the "roofs" are made of scarves and sheets. The weather had become a great equalizer, reducing the people and the animals to the same conditions. In one alley, a father bundled a newborn with whatever he could find. In another, a dog cuddled her new puppies. Baby goats foraged for food in the garbage. Chicks picked at droppings.

No one had eaten fresh food in a week, and the Maison staff brought baby formula and rice. People pushed aside the dogs, the goats and the chicks and neatly lined up. Sad stories floated around the crowd. A woman who had attended the services had died after the aftershock, her heart suddenly seizing. A missionary worried aloud about a newborn wrapped in plastic whose parents had no formula for the baby's first five days.

The situation only worsened early Tuesday.

For the second time in as many days, an earthquake struck in the overnight hours.

The magnitude 4.7 aftershock was centered about 20 miles west-southwest of Port-au-Prince. It hit at 1:26 a.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. A second smaller quake shook the area a few minutes later. No immediate reports of damage were made, but the aftershock sent frightened people once again out into the bug-filled night.

When is this going to end? It doesn't seem like an answerable question.

The rain swells the latrines and unearths the sewage. Aftershocks rattle nerves and rearrange piles of debris. People sleeping outside now feel threatened by the rains, but sleeping inside carries the threat of the seemingly never-ending aftershocks.

In the food line, the crowd was so quiet for people who looked hungry and faced a long wait. Not much to say when a step forward is followed by a big leap back.

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