PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Witnessing Haiti’s earthquake aftermath from street level is horrific -- dead bodies poking out of collapsed buildings, bandaged survivors whimpering in tent cities and the stench of rot and death.
But seeing it from the sky is when the enormity of the disaster that hit the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation last Tuesday really sinks in.
Viewed from a U.S. army helicopter flight, large areas of Port-au-Prince are reduced to rubble. Entire shanty towns have slid down hillsides. Swathes of rusty iron roofs look as if they have been sprinkled with debris by a giant hand.
Life in the wrecked city is concentrated in brightly colored patchwork spots where tens of thousands have set up makeshift camps in open spaces as aftershocks frighten people away from the buildings that are still standing.
From above, the cathedral looks like it has been stepped on. The gleaming white presidential palace looks like an iced wedding cake that has been dropped on the floor. Multistory car parks and supermarkets have been leveled like concertinas.
Cinder block houses are so crumpled it seems they must have been built of clay.
Health Minister Alex Larsen told Reuters on Friday that three-quarters of Port-au-Prince will have to be rebuilt. Even in a country less miserably poor and ill-equipped than Haiti, it’s hard to see where you would even start.
It has taken three days for the first foreign rescue teams to hit the ground and the first water trucks to do the rounds.
Disaster relief personnel arriving at the airport on Friday admitted it may still be days before they can reach hungry and injured victims with the food and medicine they desperately need.
The government’s estimated death toll of up to 200,000 people would put Tuesday’s earthquake among the 10 worst in recorded history, and it has happened in one of the poorest and volatile countries in the world.
Looting and fighting over food began on Friday on streets where no police are in sight and there is no sign of government control, let alone any sign of a recovery plan.
“These are bad times the country is living. Who knows what’s ahead?” said Antonio Elias, 47, who is leaving his business and flying to his native Venezuela with his Haitian wife and baby.
“It’s not easy to leave everything behind. Who knows when we’ll come back. But I‘m not taking the risk of staying here.”
Reporting by Catherine Bremer, editing by Anthony Boadle