PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Aid officials say they have finally figured out where to put hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in a cataclysmic earthquake: right back where they came from.
Dreams of vast relocation camps have largely evaporated due to a lack of available land. And nobody wants to leave people living in the streets under makeshift tents of plastic and bed sheets with the official May 1 start of the rainy season looming.
So Haitians like Marie Carmel Etienne are moving back home, helped by a team funded by the U.S. Defense Department that has promised to remove the debris of shattered buildings in one Port-au-Prince neighborhood if people will dump it in the street in front of their lots.
The 55-year-old stylist in a floppy hat spent better than two decades in Brooklyn and Miami before moving back to Haiti and opening a a beauty parlor in her three-story home. It all collapsed in the Jan. 12 quake, so she has been sleeping under a tree at her mother's house, dodging falling mangoes at night.
She enlisted neighbors to smash the pink-painted concrete into bits and cart them into the street for the American team to pick up.
"My U.S. taxes coming back to me," she said, pointing to a U.S. Navy engineer, Melvin Acree. "My Haitian taxes, they do nothing."
For Acree's team of bulldozer, Bobcat and dump truck drivers, the task seems never ending.
"Look at this! We cleared this street out!" Acree said with a laugh as he stepped into the sauna-like air on a street blocked anew by a mountain of broken concrete and twisted rebar.
Shelter is likely to be the dominant issue at a critical U.N. conference Tuesday in New York, where aid international aid donors are considering about $11.5 billion in aid requests.