A year after quake, good news for Haiti: New jobs and a restored landmark

Jan. 12, 2011, marks the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 9:44 PM

IN PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI Haiti could use some good news, and so on the eve of the anniversary of the nation's ruinous earthquake, business and government leaders signed a deal for a big factory, a historic market reopened, and an aid worker returned to tell how he survived 65 hours buried in the rubble.

In a cavernous hall filled with idle sewing machines, the chairman of the South Korean apparel giant Sae-A Trading Company inked a deal to bring 20,000 jobs to Haiti.

"I have to say this is the best day of my life today," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said.

"Haiti is open for business," said Jose Agustin Aguerre, the director of Haiti projects for the Inter-American Development Bank.

Former president Bill Clinton was on hand, saying many communities in the United States would jump through fire for 20,000 jobs. Clinton is co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which will dole out the $4.5 billion in assistance pledged for Haiti this year.

"This is the biggest foreign investment in Haiti's history," Bellerive said.

Twenty years ago, there were 100,000 garment workers in Haiti, but today there are only 28,000, who produce $500 million in goods, mostly T-shirts, almost 90 percent of all the country's exports.

As part of the deal, the Koreans will bring $78 million in equipment, and train and employ the workers. The U.S. government, along with the Inter-American Development Bank, will spend $170 million - erecting a power plant, an industrial park, factory shells and 5,000 worker houses, and improving the northern port of Cap Haitien.

The factory's doors are scheduled to open in 2012.

The Caribbean mobile phone carrier Digicel and its billionaire Irish chief executive, Denis O'Brien, spent $12 million renovating the historic Iron Market, which collapsed in the quake. It reopened Tuesday.

The building, which had become chaotic, filthy and dangerous before the quake, has been reborn, its elaborate red and green turrets and gables rising above a devastated downtown. Inside, ceiling fans spun and potted plants hung from the ceilings. It was, for a moment, the cleanest, newest, prettiest thing in Haiti.

Nadia Charles, a street vendor who sells rice, sugar and beans, hopes to get her old place back inside the Iron Market.

"I never thought that Iron Market would be rebuilt as it was before. The market is beautiful. I hope people can keep it clean and do not destroy it like they used to do," she said.

Dan Woolley returned to the Hotel Montana, up in the hills, which was destroyed in the quake and is now rebuilding. A few minutes before the earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, Woolley had just entered the lobby after filming in the slums for a religious aid organization.

"It was a beautiful, gorgeous day, and we were turning away from the elevators, and I heard explosions, far away and then closer, and I am seeing the walls ripple, and the world went from vibrant color to complete blackness. The hotel collapsed in three or four seconds."

"There was not a dot of light. I was disoriented. Am I dead? Is this death? But I felt pain, so I thought I was alive, but blind." Woolley had a camera around his neck, so he started taking pictures. He crawled to a safer spot. Seconds later, a large aftershock struck the city.

"The camera saved my life," he said. He used an app on his iPhone to treat himself for shock and a wicked gash that cut his leg to the bone.

He spent the next 65 hours alone, trapped in a space the size of small room. He spoke, sang and prayed with a young Haitian man named Luckson Mondesir, trapped nearby, who worked at the hotel and has since returned there to work.

"The noise of rubble shifting was terrifying," Woolley recalled, sitting on a terrace that the hotel has rebuilt, only a few feet away from where bodies lay in the days after the hemisphere's worst natural disaster in a century.

A French rescue team found Woolley but moved on to other searches, and Woolley said it appears that they forgot to mention he was still alive. Members of Fairfax County's urban search and rescue team returned to pull him out.

At one of only three sites in the city where workers are collecting rubble and crushing it into usable fill, an official said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may have overestimated how much rubble there is to clear.

It is not 19 million cubic meters but 14 million cubic meters, said Bill Vastine, a special adviser to the Interim Haiti Relief Commission. Workers may have removed 2 million cubic meters so far.

"So not too bad," Vastine said.

A good news kind of day for Haiti.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company