Panic and peril at the port
Military divers find Haiti's port in bad shape because of earthquake damage
At the crippled port, men in dugout canoes and leaky skiffs rowed passengers out to the Trois Rivieres. Out came bananas, rum and boxes of condensed milk and in went people waving fistfuls of wet Haitian dollars. The seas were calm, but there was a sense of panic, of last chances.
Out in the hazy distance sat the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship. In the harbor, all three of the cranes used to bring commerce and life to Haiti are crippled or submerged. The big one leans into the sea, useless.
There is only one functioning pier. It looks stable, but it is not. Sgt. Joshua Palmer, a U.S. Army diver, said that he and his men have examined every piling and that the news is not good. Many are splintered at the tops, tipped with frayed rebar where there should be solid concrete. It is not clear whether the pier can handle the weight it needs to bear. "I'm just a grunt, but I don't know. There's a lot missing under this pier," Palmer said.
The Americans weren't happy that a French naval vessel, the Francis Garnier, had docked. They weren't being competitive. They were being cautious. The French ship and its cargo could have tipped the pier over like an empty paper cup.
One of the Navy divers said, "Put on your life preservers." He wasn't kidding. Nearby, the civilian engineer for the Navy had made a pendulum out of a piece of string, a twig and a weight -- a half-full plastic eyedropper. He told a sailor to keep an eye on it.
"If it starts to swing, run," he said.
-- William Booth in Port-au-Prince