Haiti Then And Now: 3 Years After The Earthquake

Jan 11, 2013
Originally published on January 11, 2013 4:07 pm

Evidence of loss remains even three years after a massive earthquake claimed the lives of as many as 200,000 people in Haiti. In the middle of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, there is a cathedral whose sun-washed walls reach into the sky where a roof used to be.

A lone flagpole marks the spot where the National Palace, a symbol of Haiti's government, once proudly stood.

And on a downtown street that once bustled with storefronts, there is now a row of vendors who sell their wares under tent poles and umbrellas.

These are some of the "then and now" images from NPR photographer David Gilkey. One of the first photojournalists to capture the grim aftermath of the quake, he traveled back to Haiti to revisit images he originally took in 2010.

"I'm not out walking the streets looking for beauty in any of it," Gilkey said in 2010. "It's not just reporting. It's not just taking pictures. It's: Do those products, do the visuals, do the stories — do they change somebody's mind enough to take action?"

Of course, his photos show progress and transition, as well. A hillside of crumbled cinder-block houses is now being rebuilt. Scenes of looting and panic amid the rubble have been transformed into orderly streets. In the place of men toting guns and wielding rubble are children wearing pressed white shirts and neatly pleated plaid uniforms on their way home from school.

David Gilkey and NPR Global Health correspondent Jason Beaubien spoke with Morning Edition's Renee Montagne from Port-au-Prince about the progress they're seeing on the ground in Haiti. Hear that conversation at the audio link above.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Tomorrow marks the day three years ago when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Over 200,000 people are believed to have been killed by the quake and its aftermath, but the scale of the devastation means a final death toll will likely never be known. NPR's Jason Beaubien was among the first to report from the ruins of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Here he is three years ago, describing the scene to NPR just two days after the quake. He was at a hotel where parents had brought their injured children.


MONTAGNE: Haunting images like that one were also captured by NPR photographer David Gilkey. He was with Jason, both offering a glimpse into the unimaginable. Now, three years later, David and Jason are back in Haiti together, and we got them on the line to talk about what's changed and what hasn't.

Good morning.

: Good morning.

DAVID GILKEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And David, what were some of the first things that struck you going back to the same locations that you photographed when the destruction was still fresh? You know, I'm thinking of one photograph of the Grand Cathedral there, which you shot as a painfully beautiful wreck.

GILKEY: Yeah. About the only difference is the rubble that came down when the ceiling collapsed is gone. Other than that, the main structure, like a shipwreck, is still there, and it's really eerie. When you go back to the places where we were working immediately following the earthquake, that's sort of the thing that gets you.

You get this sort of pit in your stomach, because you know how many people died in these places. And so everywhere Jason and I go, you get this uneasy feeling, and it's hard to describe, but you remember it as this place that's sort of death. And even though that those reminders are gone, as far as structures, you still remember vividly the tragedy that happened in these places.

MONTAGNE: One of the biggest challenges right after the earthquake was housing. And, Jason, I remember you describing, three years ago, a line of about 300 tents, a real tent city that was built on a median of a busy road.

: Yeah. It was probably the craziest camp. It was right in the middle of this incredibly busy street. Well, all of that's gone now, and a lot of the camps have actually been removed. They've gone around with a system of, for the most part, paying people to leave, offering them rent subsidies for one year to get out of these camps. And they have managed to get hundreds of thousands of people out of many of the biggest camps that were scattered around Port-au-Prince.

MONTAGNE: David, you have two photos, a pair of photos showing a hillside just after the quake, then of crumbled homes kind of sliding down. And now, mostly, they appear to be rebuilt.

GILKEY: Yeah. You see the homes coming back, but you also know in the back of your mind when you look at them - for example, with these pictures - that another situation like three years ago, and they could all come tumbling down again.

MONTAGNE: Let me end with you, Jason. What has been your dominant impression? Is it Haiti, three years later, is there a sense of new life? Or ghosts of the old life?

: Haitians who lived through January 12th of 2010 will never forget that day. But what seems to have happened is that things have gone back to what life was like before for many, many people. There's very much just the sense that despite the billions of dollars that were pledged, despite all of these promises of grand plans to build back better, to do something different in Haiti, Haiti has just sort of, on its own, scrambled back to what it was like before the quake.

And some people are still living in camps, but there's sort of a sense that things have returned to difficult poverty, that same poverty that was here before that devastating quake three years ago.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both for joining us.

GILKEY: Thank you, Renee.

: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien and photographer David Gilkey speaking to us from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. David's images of Haiti then and now can be seen at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.