A 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, causing widespread devastation in Haiti's capital and throughout the country.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti A half-million Haitians who fled their shattered capital after the earthquake are starting to return to a maze of rubble piles, refugee camps and food lines, complicating ambitious plans to build a better Haiti.
Haitian and international officials had hoped to use the devastation of Port-au-Prince — a densely packed sprawl of winding roads and ramshackle slums, home to a third of Haiti’s 9 million people — to build an improved capital and decentralize the country.
An estimated 500,000 people fled to the countryside in the days after the quake, many on buses paid for by the government to move quake survivors away from the heart of the destruction. Hundreds of thousands more are camped atop the rubble of their homes, or packed into makeshift camps.
Now some of those who fled are beginning to return after enduring the rural misery that drove them to Port-au-Prince in the first place.
“I didn’t like it there,” said Marie Marthe Juste, selling fried dough on the streets near the capital’s Petionville suburb after returning from La Boule, in the mountains 20 miles to the north.
The government is largely powerless to keep people from returning, though Prime Minister Max Bellerive protested this week that Port-au-Prince cannot withstand another influx of people.
“It’s impossible for these people to come back before the capital is reconstructed,” he said.
The idea was to use the quake as an opportunity to fix some of Haiti’s long-standing problems.
President Rene Preval’s “Operation Demolition,” an ambitious plan to clear the rubble, includes provisions to remove people living in unstable buildings by force, according to Aby Brun, an architect and member of the government’s reconstruction team.
“We will destroy in an orderly and secure manner,” Brun said.
Haiti’s government on Friday announced a ban on rebuilding until it completes damage assessments and introduces a new building code to be developed with “international partners.” A notice broadcast in Creole on radio warned people against sleeping under or near any damaged buildings. It was not clear how the government would enforce the edict.
A major part of that reconstruction plan is encouraging Haitians to move away from the capital, providing jobs and basic services in other cities, towns and villages.
“We want to create opportunities for them as well in the second cities,” said the U.S. Agency for International Development’s No. 2 official, Dr. Anthony Chan.