As Haitians begin to rebuild after the earthquake, a Miami photographer captures the catastrophe

The day after the earthquake in Haiti, I was on assignment for the New York Times, shooting the reactions of residents in Miami's Little Haiti. I knew I needed to get down to the island. I was able to book a flight to the Dominican Republic. Everything happened so fast. There was no time to make plans. No ride, no place to stay.

When I arrived at the D.R. airport, I saw an ABC cameraman I knew from covering the presidential elections in 2008. ABC had chartered a bus and agreed to give me a ride. The Hotel Villa Créole in Port-au-Prince had opened its doors to the media and aid workers, but when I finally made it, they were out of rooms. I slept in a chair by the pool. I had brought some water and snacks (Fruit Roll-Ups, jerky, sunflower seeds). But I hardly ate. I just wasn't very hungry and gave away most of my food.

I never expected to see what I saw. The amount of destruction was unimaginable. The whole scene was sensory overload. In the streets, there were thousands of people, some with open head wounds and broken limbs. People were hungry and thirsty. It looked like a war zone. Entire neighborhoods were gone, rubble was everywhere, and bodies were piling up in the streets. The smell was overwhelming. It was ubiquitous, inescapable.

An elderly woman injured in the earthquake lies on the ground waiting for attention from doctors at a triage center outside the Villa Creole hotel in Port-au-Prince.
Michael F. McElroy/ZUMA
An elderly woman injured in the earthquake lies on the ground waiting for attention from doctors at a triage center outside the Villa Creole hotel in Port-au-Prince.
Displaced residents wait in line for water and food being handed out by the UN.
Michael F. McElroy/ZUMA
Displaced residents wait in line for water and food being handed out by the UN.
A young woman grieves after she learns her mother and father perished in the earthquake.
Michael F. McElroy/ZUMA
A young woman grieves after she learns her mother and father perished in the earthquake.
A wounded man walks the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Michael F. McElroy/ZUMA
A wounded man walks the streets of Port-au-Prince.
The hand of a dead man is outstretched alongside a road. It's estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed in the January 12 quake.
Michael F. McElroy/ZUMA
The hand of a dead man is outstretched alongside a road. It's estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed in the January 12 quake.

It is obviously very difficult for a person to be in a place where death abounds, where children have lost their parents, and where families have lost their homes and possessions. It's conflicting sometimes, because you're trying to be an observer, to tell a story, trying to not get involved, but then you see somebody who is clearly suffering and needs help, so you help because you're human.

As far as dealing with what I saw, I haven't. Or at least I haven't had to. I'm sure down the road I will have to figure it out. In situations like these, I try to detach myself from what's going on around me and try to be as unobtrusive as one can be. At the moment, thinking about what has happened to Haiti and its people would overwhelm me.

The only way I can justify my being there is that people will see my work and maybe learn something from it, possibly inspiring someone to help those who are suffering.

I arrived two days after the earthquake, and things were chaotic. But as the days went by, a certain vibrancy buzzed in the streets — a feeling that life would go on.

Haiti's future holds a promise to be brighter than before. A million people are expected to leave Port-au-Prince. An estimated 200,000 are dead, and the number is rising. Countless people have had arms or legs amputated. Thousands of children have been orphaned. In spite of all of that, Haitians are not lying around waiting. They are rebuilding their homes. They are sharing the little they have with others.

Since its independence, the country has carried a heavy burden of poverty, corruption, and a string of natural disasters. Fortunately, the spirit of the Haitian people hasn't been broken despite the tremendous loss they are enduring. I believe a new day will dawn for Haiti.

 
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