PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- I am returning home from Haiti, and the first thing I am going to do when I get home is hug my daughters and count my blessings. A week ago, when I was en route to the earthquake-ravaged country, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that the images on TV were of total destruction. But it's one thing to watch it on television, and another to witness it.
My crew and I arrived by helicopter at the Dominican Embassy in Port-au-Prince. The Dominican military was kind enough to transport us to a place where we might find our co-workers, who had arrived a day before. There was no water, no electricity and no communication except for satellite phones. The country was virtually isolated from the rest of the world.
As we traveled through the streets of the capital, the grim reality began to unfold. I saw building after building reduced to rubble -- homes, businesses, factories, schools, hospitals. It wasn't just a specific sector of the city. There was not a single street that did not have a collapsed structure, and the few that were standing were damaged.
On the streets were thousands of people walking, without an apparent place to go. Some carried bags or suitcases. What most impressed me was the blank look on their faces. It wasn't pain and suffering or horror and confusion; it was an empty look, perhaps a look of hopelessness.
Continuing our journey through the Haitian capital, the scene became gruesome. There were dead bodies lying on the streets, some covered by sheets or boxes, or simply exposed. As days went by, bodies began to pile up and were being loaded into trucks, then thrown into mass graves. Some were incinerated. There was fear the bodies would stir disease.
In the town of Carrefour, south of Port-au-Prince, villagers blocked the roads in protest. They complained the bodies thrown in the middle of the street were emanating a horrible stench. No one stopped to ask who they were. Could it have been a neighbor, or someone's aunt, brother or grandfather? Those bodies never would be identified and never would receive a dignified burial.
Those who survived were living in dire conditions. They set up makeshift refugee camps in any open space they could find: parks, fields, monuments, sidewalks.
Tons of aid from around the world was not reaching those in need. It sat in crates and trucks on the airport tarmac for days, while authorities figured out how to deal with the logistical nightmare.
The Haitian government could not deal with the calamity on its own. Virtually all government buildings were destroyed, and hundreds of government employees died under the rubble. The prime minister handed over control of the airport to the U.S. military to help coordinate the distribution of the aid and to support the U.N. peacekeeping forces in what was becoming a state of anarchy on the streets.
The Haitian minister of communications told me it was difficult to distribute aid when on every street there were people who needed food, water and medical care. On every street, there were people trying to deal with the loss of their loved ones.
It is hard to grasp the immensity of the tragedy unless you see it. There is not a single Haitian who did not lose a family member or friend. In a matter of 40 seconds on Jan. 12, the landscape of Port-au-Prince changed, and its population was reduced by possibly hundreds of thousands.
When I get home tonight, I am going to go to sleep in my bed with my daughters. But I can't help but think of all those women in Haiti who never will see their children again, and all those kids who will grow up orphans. That is why I count my blessings.
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