On the Ground in Port-au-Prince

Posted by Gordon Duguid
January 27, 2010
People Wait in Line in Port-au-Prince

More about the crisis and how you can help:state.gov/haitiquakeAbout the Author: Gordon Duguid serves as Acting Deputy Spokesman. He is presently serving with the Haiti Joint Information Center in Port-au-Prince.

The first duty of any American Embassy is assisting U.S. citizens. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince was built and staffed to handle about 200 applicants for consular services a day. Typical consular services for citizens in Haiti include applications for birth certificates for Americans born abroad or new passports; applications by Haitians for visas or immigration; and requests for visas or information from people of every nationality. Before the earthquake, we estimated that there were 45,000 Americans in Haiti. We estimate the number, because not all Americans register on-line with the embassy. As independently-minded folk, Americans tend not to think about telling a bunch of strangers in an embassy what we are doing.

As of January 26, the Embassy had evacuated more than 12,000 Americans and their family members. Including evacuees, we've accounted for more than 17,000 U.S. citizens. Another 4,300 U.S. citizens believed to have been in the area of the earthquake remain unaccounted for.

For the past week, we have had 2,000 people lining up outside of the embassy, mostly Haitians who have an American family connection and are trying to join that person in the United States. Today, that number doubled, and we had a very close impersonation of chaos. Despite the bedlam outside our gates, what the people in line are doing is very rational. For the most part, Haitians are trying to get the vulnerable in their families out of the country for the time being. I understand that instinct.

Our consular officers are working 20-hour days to provide assistance to those who are entitled based on legal or humanitarian grounds. Their work is not only exhausting, but heartbreaking. Many people have compelling stories about why they should travel to the United States, but not all are allowed under U.S. law. And because we have so many people in line, it is difficult to render service to those who are entitled to it while sorting through those who are just hoping we will let them travel. For example, there was an American citizen child in the line today suffering from a swollen brain and very ill. He was being cared for by a French woman and a Haitian man. Had they had to wait in line like all the rest to get to the consular section, the child might have been endangered. I just happened to be giving an interview near the spot where they were standing, and the TV producer saw the child and pointed him out. We then got the child and woman on the next flight out.

Frustrations in the line are high. All day today, the press section has been broadcasting public affairs messages via Haitian radio explaining who we can help and who we can't. We are now planning more aggressive information campaigns to convince people to come only if they really are entitled to U.S. help. With the situation as it is now, we are really worried someone who survived the earthquake will be crushed on our doorstep.

Read Gordon Duguid's next entry from Haiti.



Maryland, USA
January 27, 2010

Patrick in Maryland writes:

Hi, Gordon & GentleFolks ...

I think to help with the lines of people waiting for help,you should hand out numbers and let people sit down like they do at the DMV here. Maybe even have different groups or lines for different sevices.

I'm not sure if you have a printer, but you could hand out flyers with a list of things they may need ,to get help with some services.

Also you could ask companys that deal with large groups of people waiting for service, what they do to help things along.

Anyways i think you all are doing an "Awesome Job " at the U.S. Embassy in Port-Au-Prince. Especially under those very difficult conditions.

I hope things are improving there ,and you get all the help you need at the Embassy. :)

...See..Ya...Gordon and Friends of the State Department. :) :)

Guerlemps J.
Florida, USA
January 28, 2010

Guerlemps J. in Florida writes:

Who is entitled to US help? Please advise.

California, USA
January 28, 2010

Especianise in California writes:

Hi just got back from one of the hardest trip that I ever taken to Haiti. I am an U.S citizen (Haitian-American) and a medical student at UCSF. I arrived to Haiti via Santo Domingo on Saturday, January 23rd. Once there, I hoped to bring back with me some of my family members who are now homeless, sleeping in the street in PAP and scared. I waited in line for many hours along with other Haitians and Haitian-Americans and as I approached the front of the line, I was hit and pushed by one of the Haitian police officers because the American guard was getting very frustated at the impatient crowd. Afraid that I would be shot by the police holding his gun toward me or suffocated by the crowd, I left the line in tears.

On the trip, I brought with me many documents, that proved my relationship to my brothers, sisters and nieces and nephews.
I was not able to bring any one with me, not even my 5 year old nephew who lost his 26 year-old father from the quake and sleeping in the street with the rest. It is so frustated that the U.S government is not during more to allow Haitians with strong ties to the U.S (family) to leave Haiti. It makes no sense that I have a safe home, and the mean to take care of them in the U.S but cannot bring them home with me to safety. Ever since, I came to the United States, I have been supporting all of them fully (provide money for a home, school fees and medical care). My husband and I were ready for anyone the U.S embassy would allow to come with me. Instead they are sleeping in the dusting, unclean and cold air in PAP. I hope that the State Department will change some of the rules soon to let me and other Haitian-Americans to save our families by bringing them to the States.

Louisiana, USA
January 29, 2010

Janner in Louisiana writes:

I am truly heartbroken over the situation in Haiti. This is a sad situation that the only way is to get the people out of the Country. If they received a meal, clothes and medical treatment, where will they stay and how will they sustain themselves without a job or housing. I am certain the soil and water is contaminated. From what I have read about Haiti over the years, the Country's impoverished state is a result of a corrupt government and racism. Funds should be used to evacuate everyone out of the country.

Also, who made the decision to call off the search when people are still being found alive?

Puerto Rico
January 31, 2010

Ilia in Puerto Rico writes:

It is a time to reflect about the future of Haiti. This situation that the earthquake has caused makes anyone think that catastrophe can happen to any country. There has been a huge overpouring of humanitarian help and that is charity. Everyone cares.

I hope that in the future the Haitian government can be more responsible for its own people and move them out of the poverty and stagnatioin that country has been through. The sufffering is not only because of the earthquake, it was there before.

Hawaii, USA
February 2, 2010

Mike in Hawaii writes:

What is the current plan being coordinated for housing relief and reconstruction both on a short term need and a longer term need? Seems the housing is just built haphazardly on top of each other without a concern for the natural disaster that occur. Of course I am not too familiar with Port-au-Prince. How can we best help Haiti to resolve its own housing issues?

New York, USA
February 2, 2010

Nadege in New York writes:

It's sad to see my brother is sleeping outside on the floor in petion-ville, when I have a home here and also US citizen able to take care for him financialy. I hope the United State Gorvernement will change the law soon so that I could bring him here .

Marilda O.
February 5, 2010

Marilda O. in Brazil writes:

O Haítí não teve ipótese, mas não é um povo amaldiçoado como diseram; são apenas descendentes de escravos levados pela Espanha e França.
Quanto sofrimento, a perda da auto-estima e do amor próprio, a perda da cidadania.
Que o supremo Espírito do Bem coloque amor nos
corações para que haja mais entendimento
entre os dirigentes das grandes nações que comandam o mundo.
Com respeito,
Marilda O.


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