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 Photo by Allison Shelley.

They Call It Canaan

In the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the most crowded city in one of the most densely packed countries in the Western Hemisphere, class and elevation are inextricably linked. The city was founded on the coast, at the foot of the Chaîne de la Selle mountains, and over the centuries spread upward and outward from the sea. And as the city grew, so did its economic disparity. Now the coast is home to blighted sectors like La Saline and Cite Soleil, where some of Haiti’s poorest scrape together a living on streets that fill with trash after a heavy rain. Just above that is Delmas, a middle-class district of cinderblock houses and a main boulevard where pedestrians weave through perpetually gridlocked traffic. Above them all is Pétionville, where Haiti’s wealthiest citizens and foreign-aid contractors live amid upscale hotels and well-tended parks, with sprawling markets and grand villas that overlook the city and the sea.

Haiti, Fallen

Haiti, as it turns out, isn’t particularly prone to earthquakes. Hurricanes and political turmoil, yes: it seems that every few years Haiti is buffeted with one or the other of those, and, either way, lots of people are killed. But earthquakes aren’t much more common in Haiti than in, say, the American Midwest. So the catastrophe that devastated Port-au-Prince on January 12 was a worst-case scenario: completely unexpected and centered essentially on the national capital and largest population center by far. It’s an unbelievably cruel stroke of fate and bad luck.

On the Ground Report from Haiti

January 15, 2010

The assistant director of UVA's Creative Writing Program was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the earthquake struck. He provides video and his impressions of the aftermath of the quake.