Charles Eckert is a freelance journalist for Newsday reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.
Friday, Jan. 29: Delmas section of Port-au-Prince
"Where do they start?" a fellow photojournalist asks. We are walking the streets near our hotel. We take photographs as people dig through rubble, searching for their belongings. Some stare in disbelief at what has happened to their lives.
Among the rubble: family pictures, Christmas ornaments, a child's doll.
A man sits in front of the remains of his house. The top floor is somewhat intact, sitting at a 30 degree angle on top of the wreckage of the lower floors. Where does he start? He is alone, seemingly overwhelmed by what lays before him. Clearing the debris will require heavy machinery. At best he will salvage a few items.
Where does Haiti get the money and materials to rebuild? Building earthquake-resistant structures is costly. Haiti is incredibly poor.
Adolphe Frantz stands in front of the remains of his home. He will not go inside to retrieve what's left of his family’s belongings. The rest of his family has joined an aunt in the Dominican Republic.
He stays because before the earthquake he had “a good job” at the Coca-Cola bottling facility. It has yet to reopen.
Frantz knows he can’t rebuild with the same materials again. Without financial help, he says, he too will have to leave Haiti.
Friday, Jan. 22: Mariani, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince
Today I join ActionAid as they go on a pilot run for their planned distribution of humanitarian aid. Although they they are the type of nongovernmental organization that would rather "teach someone to fish instead of giving them fish," the scope of this disaster has them, for the short term, changing their approach.
And so they give: canned salmon, rice, maize, flour, water-purification tablets and cooking oil. Two weeks' worth for 100 displaced families living in a walled compound in Mariani, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Until today the families have received no aid since last week's earthquake. Some still have homes but are scared to stay in them. Others have only what they could scavenge from the ruins. Most say they have been eating only what they can find. They are well aware that their water supply is compromised.
There aren't many thanks as families receive the supplies. It seems everyone is too exhausted for formalities. They line up at first. But as the pile of bags of rice, sugar, and maize grow smaller, the crowd grows larger. The lines turn into a circle around the humanitarian workers, squeezing tighter and tighter.
Tempers flare; the aid workers form a human chain to keep some order. They have brought enough for the hundred families living in the compound. They didn't account for the people who would climb the compounds walls. Those families also need food. With only two Haitian police officers for convoy protection, our security could be in jeopardy. We have to leave.
Thursday, Jan. 21: Port-au-Prince
It seems that all the residents of Port-au-Prince sleep on the streets. They are wise. Yesterday morning we were awakened by the shaking of our hotel room. It was a 5.9 magnitude aftershock.
Although it lasted only seconds it felt like an eternity. I could only think of escape and ran out of the room in my underwear and a T-shirt. This earthquake was smaller and shorter than last week's. I was terrified.
All around Port-au-Prince are makeshift signs asking for help in English, French and Spanish. From Bel Air you can see the giant hospital ship. Black Hawk helicopters are constantly buzzing above the city. The 82nd Airborne is deployed on the ground.
I understand that aid is being distributed. Most Haitians in the city haven't received it. They are using what remains to start anew.
Today there were small tremors as I was waiting to be interviewed by News12 at the old Holiday Inn Hotel. I nearly jumped off the second-story balcony. Something about an earthquake is extremely unnerving.
At least in a firefight you feel you have some control over your destiny. Not so with an earthquake.
I think I will sleep outside tonight.
Tuesday, Jan. 19: Port-au-Prince
It's one week after the earthquake. The 82nd Airbone has deployed around Port-au-Prince. The Canadians and U.S. Marines are in the countryside. Aid still hasn't been distributed en masse. Most Haitians are sleeping outside.
I asked a rescuer the other day how long a person can survive trapped in rubble. About eight days. Today is day seven. We visit the Saint Louis Gonzagues High School. Hundreds of displaced families are living on the school's grounds. The lucky few have Coleman tents, while most others have makeshift structures made of sheets and pieces of debris. Life seems almost normal here. There are people washing and cooking. Two girls play with a doll. A man fixes a motorcycle. But there is also evidence that all is not well. Children with bandaged heads. A despondent man staring blankly. Another napping with a particle respirator resting on his head. The water truck arrives. Everyone lines up and waits their turn. It's amazing how calm the Haitians still are.
Driving back to the hotel I spot the vehicles of the New York Urban Search and Rescue Team and the Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Team. One of the rescuers tells me to run through the alley. They have two children, confirmed alive, trapped in the rubble. Seven days and four hours after the earthquake the first child is freed. At first he is too scared to come out of the rubble. His mother has to come to coax him out. As soon as he does, he throws his hands in the air. The rescuers and locals give out a huge cheer. It is the most amazing moment of my career. Moments later his sister is freed. To witness the joy of the children, the mother and the rescuers was incredible. Joy pours through my body. Seven days in the rubble. It is unimaginable to me.
Monday, Jan. 18: Carrefour section of Port-au-Prince:
Scavenger or looter. What is the difference here?
Today we photographed in the Carrefour section of Port-au-Prince. These are some of the images the world has seen for the last two days. As a photojournalist, I feel I have to go here. It is part of this story but it seems to be only a relatively small group of people doing it.
Visually, there is little difference between scavenging for food to eat, clothes to wear and looting a couple of chairs, fan parts or a bag of sneakers. Business owners are sending private security to recover what is left of their stock.
Who is going to recover the week-old, bloated bodies? We see two people carrying a coffin. There are many more still in the rubble. One thing seems for certain, if the humanitarian aid that has arrived at the airport doesn't start to make its way to the people of Port-au-Prince, the world will be seeing a lot more pictures of scavengers and looters.
Sunday, Jan. 17:
"Haiti is in the coffin," says Milfort Bleno, our fixer.
Most Haitians will tell you there is no reason to be here anymore. Having driven around the city and witnessed the destruction, it's hard to disagree. Seeing the lines of people at U.S. Embassy trying to obtain visas to leave makes me wonder if anyone is going to stay and try to rebuild this city.
Bleno says the coffin is at the last stop.
Saturday, Jan. 16: Downtown Port-au-Prince
We walk to downtown Port-au-Prince. Our destination is the morgue at Hospital de L'Universite D'Etat D'Haiti. This, we feel, is where the human toll from Tuesday's earthquake might best be represented.
En route to the morgue we stop at the Champ de Mars, the main park in Port-au-Prince. Now it is a campground for those displaced by the earthquake. It's amazing how well the citizens of Port-au-Prince adapted. There are people cooking breakfast, brushing teeth and bathing. Laughter and children's play can be heard throughout the park. For a brief moment life here almost seems normal.
Then the wind changes to the all-too- familiar smell of death, permeating the air. The morgue is only a few blocks away.
Before we can make it to the front gate of the Hospital de L'Universite D'Etat D'Haiti we see one of the sources of the smell. A pile of bodies dumped on the sidewalk. They are bloated, some barely dressed. Young and old, they have a similar look.
There is no dignity in death here. People walk past. The lucky ones like us have masks, some use their shirts. We pour hand sanitizer into the masks. It helps to mask the smell.
The morgue is at the end of the street inside the hospital grounds. To reach it you have to walk past the living casualties. It's evident that some will be at the end of the street soon.
We photograph the living. The stench of the dead overcomes us. We head to the morgue.
Word is they removed many of the bodies last night. There are still many there. You have to be careful not to slip. The ground is covered in the the fluids of dead, their hair and pieces of clothing. A bloated child lays next to a pregnant woman. There are many pregnant women. Some are in hospital gowns. Many look like they were dead when they were pulled from the rubble.
How does one photograph such horror? Does anybody want to see this horror? I try and detach myself from their agony. Light, shadow, composition and a human hand. Two men show up with a coffin. They pick up one of the corpses. A hissing sound comes out of the body as it's moved. I can't detach myself.
We return to the hotel. Small tremors shake the less-then-stable colonial building. I look up the hill behind the hotel. For the first time I notice the collapsed building looming above the hotel. It seems to be one more earthquake away from sliding towards us and destroying this hotel.
Afternoon light. Hours later, and after many failed attempts to transmit photos we head back out. There is word of looting downtown circulating around the hotel. We head that way. The overbearing smell of death stops us in our tracks. It's a middle school.
We climb the destroyed building. At the top of the wreckage we see the remains of the school girls in their blue dress uniforms. The dress is the only way you can tell that they are girls.
Next we see a commotion at a gas station -- a crowd of about 50 has gathered to try and buy what little fuel the station can manage to pump. Tempers flare but there is no violence.
The mood seems to be changing in this city.
Finally we stumble across an Israeli Army rescue team. An hour later they manage to free a 58-year-old man from the wreckage of a municipal building. A small dose of hope in an otherwise dark day.
Friday, Jan. 15: Port-au-Prince
The end of the first day in Port-au-Prince. The city is devastated. The smell of death overcomes you as you approach most collapsed buildings. First it enters your nose, then you can taste it, finally it makes you sick to your stomach.
Worse is the sadness you encounter. The brother-in-law who can no longer pay a work crew to dig out the remains of his sister-in-law and her two daughters. The police officers who can only stand by as a crew from the Dominican Republic uses heavy machinery to dig out the remains of its fellow officers. Then there are the buildings where the smell of death seeps out and no one is digging for the remains.
This sadness pales in comparison to seeing the wounded from this earthquake moan in agony at La Paix Hospital. I am told La Paix means peace; nothing is peaceful about it. Fly-covered wounds, a chunk of flesh missing from a woman's arm, the sounds made when a human is in pain.
But there was also happiness at La Paix Hospital. A father standing over his young son four days after he was rescued alive from a collapsed building. One of the few moments of positivity in a sad day.
Tomorrow we head to the morgue. Journalists who have seen it all have said they have seen nothing like it.
Early Friday, Jan. 15: Dagout, a village near Croix-des-Bouquets
"Over here is heaven," Pastor Jean Jacob Paul says, referring to the village of Dagout. It's hard to imagine what hell must be. Houses here have crumbled. Some have pancaked; others are missing a wall. Rubble is strewn across beds and kitchen tables. Many residents of this suburb of Port-au-Prince have been forced to set up makeshift tents in front of their houses.
We walk through the rubble taking pictures. Overhead C-130's can been seen leaving the Port-au-Prince airport. I can only hope the aid that was recently off-loaded makes it here.
In a few minutes we will be traveling the final kilometers to Port-au-Prince. Pastor Paul tells us there are possibly hundreds of thousands dead, bodies piled up in the streets waiting for some one to pick them up. I am trying to prepare myself for this hell.
Early Thursday morning, Jan. 14: Arrival in Santo Domingo
The flight landed at 12:15 a.m., and for most it was too late to do anything except pick up a rental car and head to a hotel. This was what we decided to do. It was 3 a.m. before we slept.
Thursday morning, Jan. 14: Leaving Santo Domingo
Three hours later it was time to start the trip to the border. Robert and I needed to find a new ride. Logistics forced us out of the first ride. Fortunately we had a backup plan.
An hour and one phone call later we were passengers in a new vehicle on the search for gas cans, bottled water and food.
Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14: On the road to Haiti
Three hours later and after a bunch of misdirections, we left Santo Domingo with 50 liters of water, an assortment of food and 18 gallons of gas distributed in three containers in the back of the SUV.
We were told that the drive to the border could take between five and seven hours. From the border to Port-au-Prince, no one knows for sure. One thing for certain: Everyone we met said not to drive in Haiti at night.
At this point I don't think we have any other choice. The border is at least an hour-and-a-half away.
Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14: At the border crossing
At the border crossing in Jimani. Organized chaos. Middlemen hustling the border. Even a devastating earthquake can't disrupt the hustle.
Money always speeds up the process. Stamped out of Dominican Republic. Waiting to be stamped into Haiti. One journalist, five passports and the middleman. Hopefully we will be on our way soon. Wait, a hitch with the car. More paperwork, most likely more money. Two hundred pesos now.
Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14: Arrival in Haiti
Black Hawk helicopters fly over. Can't tell if they are U.S. choppers. So far they and what seems like a larger than usual number of Dominican soldiers are the only indications that something has happened.
The sound of our passports being stamped. We made it in. Hopefully we will be in Port-au-Prince by nightfall.
Thursday evening, Jan. 14: Near Port-au-Prince
The first attempt to get into Port-au-Prince. At first it seemed nothing changed. The Haitian countryside looked much the same as it had during my earlier trips. Slowly the earthquake's damage revealed itself. At first it was a few cinder blocks toppled off a wall. A couple of kilometers farther down the road, entire walls were toppled. A few more kilometers: The concrete roofs of concrete houses were caved in. People's faces, at least those not hidden by dust masks, now began to reveal the collective trauma the Haitian people had just shared. Life for most has always been hard here, but their faces revealed something much more. Glimpses between buildings revealed that they were now living in makeshift tents. Cars and trucks heading away from the city show much more. A body covered in a sheet, a small child's head wrapped in bandages, a truck full of documents with a dozen people sitting on top of it, and car after car crammed with people and their tattered belongings.
We didn't stop to report and take pictures. The sun was setting and we were racing to get to Port-au-Prince. I don't think I could have anyway. I could only watch as they passed by.
All the cars came to a halt. The road was impassable, a national police officer said. Everyone began making U-turns. We did as well. Ninety percent of the way to Port-au-Prince, and we were stopped cold in our tracks in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets. With the sun setting and us nowhere near our destination, we needed to find shelter as soon as possible.
A missionary van was pulled over on the side of the road. We stopped. Within moments, Pastor Jean Jacob Paul had invited us to stay at his house. Later that evening he told us, "Haiti is no more."
Late Thursday, Jan. 14: Croix-des-Bouquets
Pastor Paul traded a place to stay for access to the satellite phone so he could call his wife. He has not be able to get in touch with her until now.
We've been able to lock up our SUV -- with the food, water and gasoline -- in his compound till morning.
At the departure gate was a rescue team from Spain consisting of approximately 10 people and three dogs. Most of the other passengers waiting for the flight were media and aid workers.
An announcement was made that there would be a gate change to accommodate a larger aircraft so that additional humanitarian aid could be loaded onto the plane.
The flight crew welcomed and thanked the rescue crew and journalists for heading to Haiti. Moments later we were airborne.
Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 13: En route to the Dominican Republic
The flight was filled with the logistical chatter -- this was only the first leg of a long trip. There was talk of helicopters, planes, cars and one journalist even recommended getting a ship.
Is the road from the Dominican border to Port-au-Prince passable? How long is the drive? Can you take your rental car across the border? How long is the wait at the border crossing?
The conversation would always return to the same thing: astonishment at the destruction and estimated death toll.
Eckert will be updating his account as often as he can; bookmark this page and check for updates.
Click here to see Eckert's previous coverage of Long Island troops in Afghanistan.
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HOW TO HELP
* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.
* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The Red Cross has also set up a Web site to help family members find and contact relatives.
The FBI warned Internet users to be wary of e-mail messages seeking donations in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to known organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited e-mails, officials said.
Other Web sites accepting donations include: