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Haiti earthquake: Outside Port-au-Prince, Haitians say they've been forgotten

Residents of the former colonial town of Léogâne say the outside world has neglected them in the scramble to help Haiti's beleaguered capital, Port-au-Prince. A view from the epicenter of last week's 7.0 earthquake.

By Staff writer / January 19, 2010

Signs of destruction are everywhere in downtown Leogane, Haiti, after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed 80 percent of the city. Eighteen miles outside of Port-au-Prince, Leogane was the epicenter of last Monday's quake.

Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor


Léogâne, Haiti

This coastal town 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince, framed by the trim of sugarcane fields and banana trees, had its heyday as a French colonial outpost in the 1700s.

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But after last Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake, Léogâne, Haiti, will be known as the epicenter of what some are calling the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history.

Its downtown has the eerie feel of the “day after.” The main streets are virtually empty, save residents trying to recover the bodies buried in the rubble. Only the brick arches of the main Roman Catholic Church, Saint Rose of Lima, remain standing.

Injured children moan on the ground outside their collapsed homes, their broken bones and wounds left unattended as a sense of being forgotten grows.

While Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is overtaken by international rescue teams, and harrowing images of the quake´s aftermath have generated an outpouring of international aid, residents in outlying towns such as Léogâne say they have been left to fend for themselves.

“We are alive, so God has been good to us, but the government has not done anything,” says Jean Brunel Lemaire, whose house, which he shares with his family and his brother´s family, has crumbled to the ground. Their neighbor´s house also fell, killing all five people inside. And all five remain buried there.“We are the same country, but they are only focusing on Port-au-Prince," says Mr. Lemair. "They are being negligent and irresponsible.”

Historical legacy

Léogâne shares a storied place in Haiti´s colonial history, with architecture that had been preserved through the centuries.

Now, a giant crack splits the main highway into town in two, leaving a ditch with depths of up to 30 feet. Officials estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the buildings in the town, which has about 150,000 residents, were heavily damaged.

Residents are sleeping between banana trees. The cemetery looks like a bulldozer razed it; one 1917 tombstone looks as if it had been angrily thrown on the ground.

The downtown is a booby trap of downed telephone poles and lines as well as bricks and boulders.

On one block, in a cruel fit of irony, every single building is collapsed except for the funeral home. Both the high school and elementary school are gone. Where the elementary school has crumbled, a little school desk lays on its side in the road.

Gina Sagesse lost her home and her three-year-old girl. She and her husband, desperate and mourning, headed to the main plaza with their four children in front of the church because it was the only large open-air space in town.