Day 11: Swam in the Caribbean Sea, went live on Haitian radio and TV, extorted by the police chief, and had lobster for dinner: What a day!

Having all 4 of our instruments in the field collecting data, we spent this day in the peaceful beach town of Mole St. Nicholas, which is isolated by distance and a lack of technology from the rest of the country. For the few that have it, electricity comes on for 4 hours at 6 pm each day. The Haitians here enjoy the beauty and bounty of the sea that surrounds them, go to school in uniforms, and pray and sing amongst and in the ruins of French Colonial ruins. Each evening hundreds descend on the town center to listen to loud music and play soccer for what can only be described as a nightly town party. We are camped in a small little hamlet run by a Frenchman named Julian who cooks us fish, lobster, and plantains with the most marvelous sauces, and provides us with tents and buckets of warm water to bathe.

The beach in Mole St. Nicholas where we camped and swam (we did check our GPS site 3 times!).

Our little French Hamlet in one of the most remote regions of Haiti.

After fresh fish for breakfast the Chief of Police gave us a tour of the town which included French Colonial ruins, the airport (just a dirt road really), and a big pile of gravel that had been readied for export to the US. We then checked our GPS instrument to make sure it was recording properly and headed back to our camp site to swim in the warm, clear waters off this northwestern most tip of Haiti.

View from the location of our Mole St. Nicholas GPS site atop the police station.

Sarah amongst some French Colonial ruins.

A few hours after our nice tour, this same Police Chief extorted 1000 Haitian gourde ($25 US dollars) from us with an implied threat to our equipment, which is sitting on his station’s roof. Shown below is Andy writing a receipt (business is business) to a deputy. Macly and Daniele (seated at the table) were, to say the last, not thrilled. We took it in stride as the price sometimes for doing business (or science) in Haiti. Since this transaction took place, our colleagues Daniele and Macly made arrangements for a local employee of the Bureau de Mines to guard us in the night. Can you believe it? The man was armed and ready to kill for us…. a very sobering thought.

Extortion caught on camera! Andy is writing the receipt.

In the late afternoon the mayor of Mole St. Nicholas came to our camp and asked us if we would go live on the Radio to the region. The radio station was a little one-room building, the only one in the neighborhood with electricity. We were asked to explain the objectives of our science mission, why earthquakes occur, the potential for more earthquakes, and things they might do to prepare. We answered questions for about 15 minutes, and relayed our deepest sympathies.

Sarah and Andy being interviewed live on Haitian radio.

After the radio interview, and to our big surprise, we were asked if we would go live on Haitian TV. What an honor! Above we are shown being interviewed at the TV station. It’s quite a different setting than what one may expect for a TV stations. Folding chairs, a concrete backporch, and a small digital camera. We were able to watch on a monitor when they cut-in  the middle of a sexy music video live.

We were interviewed for about 45 minutes. Towards the end the TV host took call in questions on his cell phone. Most of the questions revolved about the threat of tsunami. We were able to tell them which shores were in danger of tsunami, how to recognize one is coming, and most importantly, to get to high ground or upper levels of a building as fast as they can.

Live on Haitian TV!

We have no idea how many people actually heard our radio and television broadcasts, but we find these opportunities to educate priceless. Any apprehensions about going on live (and there were some) were alleviated by the importance of this process since we want to make a difference. If our presence here does nothing more then educate a small region on the northwesternmost coast of Haiti about seismic hazards they face and on how they may protect themselves, our visit will have been completely worthwhile.

When we finally got back to our place on the beach, Julian cooked us the most wonder lobster and plantain dinner.  What a day!

Andy and Sarah


Nouvelles de Port-au-Prince

Lots going on this week in the PaP area… As Glen and Estelle mentioned below, we had a serious technical problem with the receivers. Not recording data is **not** an option here… Things are back in order thanks to efficient and patient help from Jim Normandeau at UNAVCO.

On the field work side, we have now surveyed Delmas, Leogane (hit very hard by the quake…), Dufort (on the fault…), Petionville (where I am staying), and Kenscoff (in the mountains south of PaP). We will be moving receivers around this week-end to survey Thomassin, Bon Repos, and Tomazeau.

Much of my time — and most of my energy — this week was spent interacting with colleagues, collaborators, and officials in PaP. The media have been very present as well, to say the least. I have been helping the UN support the Haitian government and met with President Preval, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Environment. A positive outcome of this is the press conference given this morning by the government of Haiti to inform the population about the earthquake situation, explain that the aftershock sequence, and inform about earthquake threat and safety in general. This was followed by a broad audience presentation we were invited to deliver for AGERCA (Alliance pour la GEstion des Risques et la Continuite des Activites, with my colleagues Claude Prepetit and Dieuseul Anglade from the Bureau of Mines and Energy. AGERCA is presided by G. Laborde from Voila, who has provided terrific support to my activities in PaP. Another high-level briefing is planned for tomorrow…

I am exhausted, it is very difficult to manage the field work, media, and support activities all at once. But it gives me a chance to reach beyond what I usually do as a scientist.

Most importantly, it has been great spending time with my friends Roberte, Hildegonde, and Elliot. All have suffered from the earthquake but are still full of energy.


Moving Day for Equipe du Sud

Caribbean Sea from the South Haiti Coast

Today is moving day, so up at 5:30 AM to get ready to go.  I wanted to make sure that we could get out at first light, since Herbert drives quite a bit faster and more confidently during the daytime.  Estelle and I were ready to go at 5:55 AM.  Herbert emerged from the room about 6:05 and finally Frantz managed to roll out to the car about 6:15 AM.  The plan today is to go to Cavaillon and Les Cayes, collect the GPS kits, and then relocate them to Port Salut, near where we have been staying since Monday evening, and Les Anglais about 30 km, but 2 hrs drive to farther west.  After we setup at ANGL, our plan is to continue on to Tiburon to collect the kit at TIBU.

On the move near Les Cayes

We arrived at Cavaillon about 7:30 AM.  It had started to rain about 20 minutes earlier.  Go figure – on moving day, we have to have rain.  The weather has been great so far, relatively dry for the tropics and not too hot. By the time we had gotten the ladder off the car and carried it to the building, the rain was already coming down lightly.  Up the ladder and to the roof of the College de Notre Dame once more.  The GPS unit was working fine: the antenna was level and on the mark, so we shut it down quickly.  The rain started to come down hard now.  By the time we got down the ladder, we were all soaked.  I showed Estelle how to setup the receiver to work in the car, so she could download enroute to the next site at Les Cayes.  We had acquired 2.5 UTC days of observations at CAVA.  A little less than optimal, but still OK, I think, given the problems we had with the initial programing snafu. We paid the guard $1000G (~$25 US), and we were off to Les Cayes.

People shopping at the Cavaillon Market

Les Cayes market

The Port Salut site is on the roof of a local hospital.  There apparently was some minor cracking and damage to the building during the Jan. 12th earthquake, so there was a construction crew on the roof doing repairs.  Setup of PTSL went smoothly, and we left for Les Anglais by 9:30 AM.

Arrived Les Anglais about 11 AM.  The road is incredibly bad starting about 10 km east of Les Anglais.  They are repaving this entire section of road, but they haven’t quite made it to Les Anglais yet.  I am sure it will be better when the next GPS team comes to occupy this site, but right now, it’s a rough ride.  ANGL is on top of the local police station.  This precinct is in much better shape than the one in Tiburon.  They have a spiral staircase to the roof in the in the back of the building, so no need for the ladder.  Also, because there was no site description for this site from Eric, so we needed to do that too.  I let Estelle setup and level the spike mount.  After some initial problems, she got the the leveling done quickly, so we could start logging data.  We thanked the local police officer on duty at the time, and then found a place to get some cold Cokes, before setting out on the dusty, gravel road to Tiburon.

Les Anglais GPS site - view to the south

We arrived Tiburon at 12:30 PM. Estelle showed Frantz how to interact with and program the receivers from our rickety PC laptop; then we started to download the data. We kept the site logging during the download to get the maximum amount of data possible for today, as this GPS kit will idle overnight.

The Wild West End - The Police Station at Tiburon

We acquired 3.5 UTC days of GPS observations at TIBU, so success again. Back in the car for the 2.5 hr drive back to our hotel in Port Salut.  All in all, we had a great day.

Glen and Estelle

Trouble in Paradise

While finishing up some calculations with Estelle, I received a call from Eric, who is working in the region near PAP. He was in a panic. Sarah and Andy had returned to check on one of their receivers in the northern region of Haiti and found that the while the receiver was still on and tracking satellites, it was not recording data. They checked another site and again found the same problem. Eric has also checked one of his sites and reported that it too had failed to record data. He concluded that there was some sort of global programming error in the BoM Lab in PAP prior to our deployment on Sunday.

I scrambled the troupes and we left within about 10 minutes to head to our closest site, CAYE, at the regional airport near Les Cayes, where we had installed a RSMAS receiver. When we arrived we found the same problem. I examined the configuration with Estelle, and frankly it was unclear to me what might have gone wrong with the revised session programming. I called Jim Normandeau at UNAVCO for assistance. He told me that all the UNAVCO receivers were pre-programmed at the Facility for repeating 24 hr sessions to begin at UTC midnight. He also told me that we needed to the Trimble Configuration Toolbox software to upload, download, and edit configuration files. He talked us through creating, saving, and uploading a new file. We tested that it would restart, by doing a forced power failure. It seemed to work.

We left Les Cayes for Aquin, where there was a UNAVCO receiver, just as the sun was setting. Same situation, same fix. We departed AQIN at about 8:30 PM and headed back toward Port Salut, with the plan to reset the receiver at Cavaillon enroute. While this is a more difficult site to access than AQIN, being atop a 2.5 story school, we managed to get the problems sorted out in about 20 m with only the light from a clear starlight sky and a couple of flashlights. We had called ahead to make sure the caretaker could meet us at the gate. I am absolutely amazed at how cooperative everyone is here. I have done fieldwork all over the Caribbean, including several GPS campaigns during major crisis mode in Montserrat, and yet I have never had such a great experience with the local people helping out, patiently watching what we were doing, and welcoming us onto their property without a major hassle. The people of Haiti have welcomed us with open arms.

Departed CAVA around 9:30 PM and finally made it back to the hotel at 10:45 PM. We had called ahead to order dinner, so the restaurant staff was waiting for us. We had a great local stew with rice. A couple of very cold Prestige beers, shower, and bed. We were all worn out. Estelle, Frantz and Herbert arose at at daybreak to go to Tiburon to reset the receiver there. I stayed at the hotel to sleep a bit more and catch up with my log and to finish the analysis of the surface rupture features, we had started yesterday AM.

Were are now back on track, and despite our initial snafu with the receiver programming, I am still confident that will be able to collect all the GPS data within the planned time for this campaign.

Glen and Estelle

Estelle, Herbert, and Frantz doing some analysis in Port Salut

Problems with session programming on CAYE GPS receiver

News from the Equipe du Sud

Estelle, Glen, Frantz, and Herbert (our driver) departed from the BoM facility, where we had stayed in Delmas on Sunday morning, January 31st about 10:30 AM. Leaving town, we again passed along the main road of Delmas and down into the low lying region of PAP by the central market and the government offices. Nothing much had changed: still no evidence of a broad scale effort to distribute international aid. We have a slightly banged up Toyota HiLux 4×4 extended cab pickup. These are great field vehicles and the preferred truck when we work in Nicaragua. Our A/C works reasonably well and that is really a blessing, given that we will make some very long and dusty treks before we get back to PAP. Our driver is Herbert Jean Amboise. We stopped near the BNP building and our BoM technician, Frantz Saint Preux, who speaks French, Creole, a bit of Spanish, and a few words of English, negotiated with a guy on the street to change $200 US to $7600 Gourdes for each of us. Then we were off to points south and west of PAP.

Our route passed through Carrefour and other towns along the main EW highway on the southern side of the Bay of PAP toward Leogane. While the structures are lower, mostly 1 to 2 stories, and farther apart, there is an enormous number of them that are badly damaged or completely destroyed. We found three areas of substantial cracks in the road along this route.

As we continued on, we also found a very significant zone of uplift in the roadbed and underlying sediments south of Leogane, with cracks in the tar indicating transpressional motion. The orientation of the uplift axis was essentially EW. Our closest GPS monument is adjacent to the same road on the roof of the police station in the next village south, called Carrefour Dufort. It was quite clear that this structure was a few km north of the main geomorphic valley of the EPGF.

We continued farther south and climbed into the mountains. We saw several other major cracks in the roadbed. Again, the overall trend of the structures was ~EW. In order to assure that we could get at least three sites in today, we weren’t able to spend much time measuring or analyzing the area. Estelle took some quick notes and off we went to Aquin to install our first GPS site, which is on the roof of a small local hospital. The grounds were in top condition and we were introduced to the Head Mistress, who spoke Spanish, and encouraged us in our work and thanked us for coming to Haiti to help after the earthquake. Estelle and Frantz setup the one UNAVCO kit without much trouble using an 18 cm spike mount.

I recalled the 1999 DR campaign, was when I was first introduced to the extensive usage of rooftop GPS sites. At that time, we were always scrambling to find a ladder in addition to getting permission to access the site and install the gear. The AQIN site was up and running at ~3:15 PM EST. It is so much easier to do this work when you have a local person with you like Frantz, and you carry your own ladder on the top of the truck.

On to Cavaillon. The road and trip from Aquin to Cavaillon was relatively quick and easy. The site is located on top of a private school called the College Notre Dame, which is adjacent to the Digicel cellular tower. We had to wait for a few minutes for the groundskeeper to arrive with the key to let us in. The site is on the top of a 2.5 story structure and it required us to climb to the roof of the first floor, then pull the ladder up after in order to climb to the roof. I am glad that we have Frantz with us because he is quite strong and able. I really don’t have to do all that much, except to instruct and inspect. Good duty not having to hump batteries or the ladder. We installed our first of the three RSMAS GPS kits here using a 0.5 m spike mount. I showed Estelle and Frantz how to setup and level the spike mount quickly.  Estelle and Frantz claimed to have felt a small earthquake, but I didn’t notice. We corrected the site map provided by Eric, took some photos, and departed quickly to Les Cayes, in the hope of getting the final site of the day in before dark.

The site in Les Cayes is located at the regional airport, which is several km NW of the main city. We arrived at 5:15 PM to find that the airport was under UN control. The local caretaker arrived a few minutes later, and ushered us in quickly, despite the UN soldiers acting like we were some sort of security breech. The facility also has a local fire station, and the overall sense was that the airport and the fire station were in top condition and well run.

Off to Les Cayes to find a place to stay. We ended up at the Hotel Meridien – not like the Le Meridien Montparnasse in Paris! Rooms were adequate, with private baths, and A/C, but very rudimentary, for sure. The building is a 3-story structure, and I was worried that it may have sustained some damage during the Jan. 12th event. I my opinion, it would not stay standing with peak GA of >0.2 g, given what I saw in PAP over the past few days.

Overall, our first full day of field work was a success.

Estelle and Glen

Frantz and Estelle setup GPS receiver at Cavaillon (CAVA)

Day 10: Furthest from Port-au-Prince

We are ending the day in Mole St. Nicolas – a town on the northwestern tip of Haiti. The day began with a triumphant visit to our site in Port-de-Paix. We’ve been having some complications with receiver configurations but all problems appear to be solved. We successfully installed two more sites today and have found a little haven of a place on the beach owned by a Frenchman turned native. Amongst other usual Haitian obstacles to getting anywhere fast, we had to cross a 100 meter wide river that got to about 3 feet deep. It was fun to share the crossing with many pedestrians and donkeys.

After several complications we get a thumbs up from D. Sarah Stamps

In Jean Rabel, a small town that is the center of a broad agricultural area on the northwest coast, we installed a receiver on the roof of a mission. This provided us the opportunity to meet the two incredible sisters who run the mission, one from Spain and one from Ireland. Humanitarians on the front line, they work to educate and feed what they tell us are the poorest in Haiti, which is saying something. By the time we departed the mission, the main street of Jean Rabel was completely jammed with the daily market, forcing us to take the mountain road (vs. the coastal road) out of town.

Nazarus at the mission in Jean Rabel. She is helping those affected by
the earthquake express their emotions through art. Awesome work sister!

Jean Rabel market.

In Mole St. Nicolas, most people are disconnected technologically. At the police station where our site is located, Andy shared pictures of post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. No one had actually seen any of the destruction – only radio broadcasts or mental imagery via word-of-mouth. It was sobering to watch people see for the first time the disaster suffered by fellow Haitians. They recognized many government buildings that lay in ruins and asked many questions about the disaster.

Locals in Mole St. Nicolas viewing pictures from Port-au-Prince for the first time.

Sarah met a young man named Tony this evening who works as a translator part-time for the UN. He was in Port-au-Prince with his family and thanks God for saving them all. He was in the street “bragging” when the shaking began. Tony and friends helped his family out of the house, including a grandmother, mother, father, three sisters, and two brothers. The house crumbled but everyone survived. They have now come back to the countryside where their life first began – in Mole St. Nicolas.

Day 9: Two foreign scientists’ perspective

Today we picked up two instruments north and south of the Gonaives area, and drove up to Port-de-Paix on the north shore, where we installed a GPS receiver on top of a police station that shook so much during the earthquake that the chief of police didn’t want to talk to us inside the building. Nobly, they did not hesitate to help us onto the roof and stay with us while there. To do otherwise would have been impolite, and the Haitians are incredibly gracious hosts.

Our drive today took us form the scrub valleys, through the mountains, to the sea; through rural Haiti that connects these two big cities. You hear expressions like “third-world” and “80% under the poverty level” and “poorest country in the western hemisphere”.  But to see it is to appreciate what those terms really mean. From the big cities where venders sell a card table’s worth of items, to the farmlands where the soil is tilled with their backs, to the rivers where people gather the water that is not available in their homes, these beautiful people are scratching out an existence.

Through the eyes of foreign scientists, there is much to be pitied and it delivers a great sense of compassion and empathy. We see deforested mountains and plains, people living in freight containers and little shacks, a lack of sanitation control, crowds of jobless citizens, guards with shotguns at the grocery stores, overcrowding, children sucking on AAA batteries (we quickly traded for a lollypop), poverty almost everywhere, and dirt roads everywhere in need of grading and repair.

We find it interesting that people here seem to be always on the move -early in the morning, in the heat of the afternoon, in the darkness of night. The streets in every town we visit are cluttered with people going somewhere. Few people seem to own cars, but brightly painted pickup trucks and small motorcycles are used as taxis. It is quite ordinary to see 15 people in the back of a pickup or 4 on a small motorbike – including children.

There is beauty here; women in warm colored dresses balancing huge loads on their heads while walking back from market or field; children everywhere playing, no matter the conditions – we’ve seen little kites made of a thin wood frame with plastic from grocery bags that float on the slightest breeze. We actually found one wrapped around one of our tri-pods today and dropped it off the roof into to the children’s hands, provoking a big smile (no worries about the data; the kites are super light, we were still on point, level, and oriented north). The sense of community both in the smallest and biggest towns is clear. All-in-all, people seem to be honest and up-front too. It’s easy to take advantage of foreigners but we haven’t come across that so much. We’re happy to say that from what we’ve experienced, the Haitian culture promotes politeness, humility, and community.

Andy and Sarah

Rural Haiti

Lush Haiti

Market Haiti

Day 8: Rough roads in the country side

Sarah and Andy continue to have a busy time in the north.  This morning Sarah found the GONA monument after we swept clean most of the roof on the old Police station (we had searched for about 2 hours as we did not have a drawing of its location on the roof from the last time it was surveyed).

Station GONA installed on the roof of an abandoned police station in Gonaives. Note the sand bag bunker in the background. This was built by the US Army a few years back when they were helping with security of the Haitian president who was giving a speech in the courtyard below.

After installing GONA, we headed back south again to check on DESS in Desdune, which appeared to not be recording, so good thing we checked, and then back up to Gros Morne to check on GROS, which was working fine.  Though that last sentence was pretty easy to write, it involved about 5 hours on the worst dirt roads – actually dirt may have been nice and soft, these rocky roads beat up both rider and vehicle. We lost the rear bumper from the truck somewhere – it just broke off!  I blame Sarah who is such the consumate professional in the field that nothing is left to chance, which is why we checked everything today and were able to discover GONA’s problem and fix it. Tomorrow we remove GONA and GROS and head further north to install 2 new stations.  We are told the roads only get worse.  😦


Day 7: 3 teams and Haitian radio

The teams split today. It was a rambunctious morning with multiple television crews filming mostly Eric and the teams leaving – finally departing around 10am. We left our tents, tarps, and what we could spare with the inhabitents of the tent city that surrounded us.  It is only a token but the gesture was well received.  We (Andy and Sarah) headed north. We set up a GPS site in Desdunes (DESS) on a police station (picture below), Gros Morne (GROS) on top of a CARE building, and searched for hours in the dark on top of an old police building for a geodetic point in Gonaives (GONA). Most of these sites are installed on tops of buildings so it’s a task to find a ladder (“scale” in Creole), however, our colleague Macly never ceases to amaze us in his ability to acquire everything we need easily and hastily. In Gros Morne Macly tracked down the mayor playing soccer – he left the game temporarily to direct help for us – he also offered his backyard for us to camp in, but we were eager to get to Gonaives. Unfortunately we did not find GONA this evening. We will be back early in the morning to search again. The Haitian people we meet in these towns have been incredibly supportive of our work and we simply could not conduct this survey without them.  And Andy was on Haitian National Radio today. They tracked down Macly on his cell phone and told him to introduce me (Andy) and then he puts me on the phone and says I am live to all of Haiti.  Uhhh.  They don’t seem to have any specific questions – I am not sure they speak english and I certainly don’t speak Creole.  Macly tells me they just wanted me to ramble on about the earthquake and tsunamis and seismic hazards in Haiti.  So I do for about 4 minutes until the connection is cut.  I have no idea if someone understood or translated a single thing I said.

Sarah and Andy

GPS station DESS upon the roof of the Police Nationale d'Haiti in the small town of Desdunes.

Day 6, 2nd day in Port-au-Prince

Our first night in a tent city was very interesting.  A rooster in a far-off tent city would crow. This would evoke a respond from another rooster in another tent city and so on until our local fellow would add his voice.  This crowing would last a few minutes, then cease, then repeat itself again about 10 minutes later – all night long.  Dogs would then get in the act, though they seemed less organized.  And finally, prayer and song began around 4 am, before the sunrise. This city is alive through the night.

One of our colleagues Alcidor drove us around Port-au-Prince today to view the effects of the earthquake.   There is no way to properly describe the level of destruction and havoc that the earthquake has caused (see pictures below).  It will be months before this city and many of those that perished will be dug out.  Yet the city is alive and vibrant. They are coping and hopeful and getting on with their lives.  As the pictures also show, the markets and street vendors are as active as ever.  We saw no signs of any trouble, nor have heard of any during the day.  The night is different. Nobody goes out at night. Even from their tent cities, which are everywhere, the Haitian people are remarkably resilient and optimistic.  We also saw virtually no foreign presence other than an occasional US or UN personnel.  We saw no distribution centers and no food or supplies in trucks moving anywhere – though we could have missed them.  Our friends in the tent city that are here at the Bureau of Mines tell us that they have been given water and medical help, but no food, and are not aware of any distribution centers.  We have heard that food is stuck in the airport and seaside port, but the means to bring it in does not exist, though we cannot confirm this.

Upon returning to our base we spent the afternoon showing our Haitian colleagues who will join us in the field how to set up the GPS receivers. Then we set up our first receiver nearby and began recording data.  Tomorrow morning we split into 3 teams.  Sarah and Andy will head north, Estelle and Glen will head south and west, and Eric will stay around Port-au-Prince.  We plan on making measurements for approximately 2 weeks, covering the entire country.

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