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Haiti tourist spot shows signs of recovery

One of Haiti's few tourist destinations is showing signs of making a strong recovery from the damage it suffered in last year's earthquake.
/ Source: The Associated Press

One of Haiti's few tourist destinations is showing signs of making a strong recovery from the damage it suffered in last year's earthquake.

More than 1,400 Haitians holed up in muddy makeshift camps moved into new houses in the southeastern city of Jacmel on Tuesday as part of a ceremony organized by the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations, and other aid groups.

"Jacmel in my view reflects the progress that has been made outside Port-au-Prince," Luca Dall'Oglio, head of the IOM, told The Associated Press as he walked among the rows of peach-colored homes.

Dall'Oglio attributed the city's progress to the ability to secure land for housing and direct access to local officials.

Jacmel, a seaside city of 40,000, was among the cities hardest hit by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Many of the buildings in its downtown historic district buckled and city officials estimated that 800 people died.

A city celebrated for its carnival and French Quarter-style architecture, Jacmel has long drawn American and European tourists charmed by its artistic flair and black-sand beaches. It's also been viewed as one of the safest places in Haiti, a city that's largely eluded the political strife associated with Port-au-Prince.

The rest of Haiti has largely stumbled along to recovery since the January 2010 earthquake. Port-au-Prince, heavily hit because so many concrete buildings were shoddily made, is still filled with flimsy settlements.

The number of people nationwide in the encampments is almost 595,000, compared to a peak of 1.5 million after the quake, according to the IOM, an aid group that focuses on migration issues after disasters.

In the countryside, the displaced population has dropped 90 percent, from 300,000 to 30,000 people, Dall'Oglio said. Part of that overall decline stems from evictions on public and private land.

More than 67,000 people have been evicted since the quake and threats of eviction have increased by 400 percent, U.N. official Nigel Fisher, wrote in a letter Monday.

Fisher was among the group of international aid workers and police officials who on Tuesday toured Camp Mayard, named for a street that runs adjacent to the 335-home settlement. Most of the residents came from Jacmel's biggest camp, Pinchinat, a soccer field turned muddy encampment.

Frantz Jeannis was among those living in swampy Pinchinat, forced there after his home in downtown Jacmel toppled.

"If you compare yourself to people in Port-au-Prince, it's better here," Jeannis, a 29-year-old artisan, said in his doorway as he rocked his two-year-old daughter in his arms. "It's not the same thing at all."

Jeannis cited how the tents and tarp structures in Port-au-Prince often collapse in the stormy weather and flood in the rain.

The houses in Camp Mayard are "semi-permanent," meaning they are meant to last 15 years and built with concrete foundation. Solar-powered lights illuminate the grounds, laid with gravel to curb flooding. Residents pay 25 cents every day or so for potable water.

Central to Jacmel's burgeoning recovery has been a sense of pride long associated with the city. Jacmelians, as residents call themselves, view themselves independent of Haiti. And many took it upon themselves to clean up the rubble from the streets and their property, and not wait for foreign aid workers to do so.

"Jacmelians, they put their heads together," said Archille Laguerre, the local leader of Camp Mayard. "Why? They have a spirit of collaboration, a spirit of teamwork and community."