Quake-damaged main port in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, worse off than realized

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- U.S. Coast Guard officers said Wednesday that Haiti's main port is more badly damaged than they first realized, a finding that has created another significant obstacle to relief and reconstruction efforts.

Word of the hazards reached the command Tuesday afternoon, the officers said, prompting Haitian and American authorities to speed a review of the country's provincial ports in a race to find more ways to pour supplies into the capital.

"With the latest on the south pier, we have to look a lot quicker," Coast Guard Cmdr. Wayne Claybourne said in an interview aboard the Oak, a cutter responsible for coordinating Port-au-Prince's increasingly busy harbor traffic.

The main pier, at the northern end of the port, was destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which left its cranes in the water and its terminal collapsed. Managers had used part of the south pier to unload relief supplies gingerly, one shipboard container at a time. But its use has stopped now.

The need for supplies is expected to grow exponentially in Haiti once rebuilding begins. The capital, especially, needs heavy machinery and vast quantities of construction material, but the roads in the country's interior are rutted two-lane blacktops.

Six U.S. landing craft of the type used in World War II -- with one French craft -- are working the harbor, delivering supplies directly to shore. Other American ships will soon begin shuttling a barge-like vessel from ship to shore.

"The flights into the airport, that's just a Band-Aid," Coast Guard Capt. Jim McPherson said. The port is "a lifeline for the long-term survival of this country."

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