LES CAYES — As you move through the Haitian cities that stood on Hurricane Matthew's destructive path, a disturbing question strikes you: What was destroyed in the recent storm and what was damaged from before? You can see scrap metal and zinc sheets that were used as roofs. You can glimpse children bathing in and drinking from streams of polluted brown water. But this was all not necessarily due to the last hurricane.
Haiti is the poorest country in the American continent. A previous hurricane, Felix, wrought destruction in 2007. An earthquake killed 220,000 people in 2010. Last week's Hurricane Matthew killed at least 1,000.
We accompanied a humanitarian aid convoy led by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by the acronym Minustah, to the southern coastal town of Les Cayes, one of the worst-hit areas.
At Tabarre, a suburb of capital Port-au-Prince, there's an abundance of posters for the 27 presidential candidates. Elections, which have been postponed since January over allegations of fraud, were supposed to take place on Oct. 9. The hurricane further delayed the vote, which is now scheduled for Jan. 8, 2017.
As move south, we witness the first sign of the hurricane — a collapsed bridge. Part of the river is covered with soil to allow people to cross. We see large areas of leafless trees.
Every now and then on our journey, poverty and devastation give way to beautiful green mountains and idyllic beaches. The hurricane makes it easy to forget you're in the Caribbean and on the same island as the Dominican Republic, one of the most popular touristic spots in the world.
U.S. Marines aiding Haitians in Dame Marie on Oct. 11 — Photo: Cpl. Samuel Guerra/Planet Pix/ZUMA
At Les Cayes, residents are waiting for aid and impatient toward journalists. A Brazilian soldier explains that locals don't like to be photographed because they believe it captures their soul. The streets are filled with food stalls. Next to the stalls, there are large bags of rice offered by American NGOs. Hawkers are now selling this free rice. There have been reports of humanitarian aid trucks being plundered.
As we wait for the convoy to arrive, a group of curious Haitians form around us. Among them is Vilea, a 40-year-old Haitian. The roof of his house was blown away by the hurricane so he lives in a friend's kitchen with his wife and 5-year-old son. "I've lost everything," he says in English. "My house, my clothes, my birth certificate."
"Whenever I see white people, I go and ask them if they can help me, if they can give me something. A job, I mean. I'm not a beggar," says Vilea. Before the hurricane, he used to sell coconuts. Matthew, however, wiped out many trees leaving him jobless, he says.
Vilea's neighbors are in a similar situation and a friend of his is still missing. "Where I live, not even five houses are standing," he says.