Haiti aftershock: 'Am I far enough to be safe?'

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Most of us were sleeping outside in the courtyard area of a nearby building when a 5.9-magnitude aftershock hit at about 3:11 a.m. PST. It was quite powerful. I could feel the ground rolling and hear the building creaking.

Photographer Sean Patrick Lewis slept through the whole thing and couldn't believe it when he woke up. It's been a rather exhausting few days here, so I don't blame him for sleeping.

The first thing I thought of, besides how powerful and long the quake seemed, is how far am I from the building because you immediately start thinking, "Am I far enough to be safe in case something happens and this building starts coming down?" It puts you in a place that the citizens of Haiti have been in for the last week or so.

It brings to mind all the images of the people of Haiti who are literally sleeping in the streets, in tent cities and in city parks because they're scared to be inside buildings.

There are some reports that there was some scattered panic within the city. Any time the ground rumbles here, it's almost like post-traumatic stress. Any rumbling at all will put terror through them, and I'm sure those sleeping in the streets were thankful that they were, despite the squalid conditions.

Almost every building you go through in Port-au-Prince has massive cracks in it. I would not doubt that if L.A. building inspectors came here and had to pass a building to code by our standards, they wouldn't pass a single one. They're all fragile, poorly built and any one of them could come toppling down.

I got an interesting walk-through with Jeff Lang, a member of the Milwaukee Fire Department Urban Search-and-Rescue team. He brought me into a building that houses nuns, and in this building, there's a chapel, a hospital, a cafeteria and a dormitory.

"What's sad is this building will probably get used again without fixing, but in America, I wouldn't let my family within 3 inches of this building," said Lang.

"All the main joints are cracking … so when you think of this as a box, the load is distributed on these walls evenly, and none of these walls are doing their job. It's like if you had two legs with one sprained ankle. It'll do the job, but it's not going to do it good, and who knows when it's going to give out," Lang said.

The room that we were in, with all the cracks in the corners, was on the first floor. Right above that room is a dining hall, and you can see how easily it could come down.

Lang said the building doesn't even need an earthquake for the building to cave in. He said heavy rain or the vibrations of an airplane could knock the building down. Yet there are so few buildings standing that are useable, these nuns have nowhere else to go.

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