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Haiti earthquake diary: Looting or survival?

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Saturday, Jan. 22

I head downtown with the new PBS team that I'm working with. I haven’t really spent any time on Main Street, or what’s left of it.

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One pancacked building after another. One slab of concrete piled on another pile on another. Layer on layer like a lasagna whose filling oozes out.

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Along the boulevard, people pick through the ruins of other people’s lives.

Some may call it looting. I call it survival.

The things in the rubble may technically belong to individuals, but at this point, Haiti may best get through this catastrophe if a communal mentality prevails. I suspect that I would be scavenging, too, if it would keep my family fed.

I know that the gang members that escaped from prison are on the loose, and that many are worried about security, but I think those kinds of criminals are different than people made homeless by the quake who are looking for ways to put something in their stomach. The crowds that I have seen so far, and there have been many, are peaceful. Amazingly so, given the conditions they are living in and will live in for weeks to come.

A woman in a blue dress with a tin of clothes on her head stops to look in the debris at her feet. She picks up some clay vases. She sizes them up, then puts them back in the muck. She kicks the debris a bit more and then picks up an orange pocket book. She tries the zipper. It’s broken, so she puts in back in the mud and walks away.

Also of interest:

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An audio slideshow: Haiti earthquake: at the epicenter

---- For all stories, blogs, and updates on Haiti after the earthquake, go to The Monitor's Haiti page.