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Area man surveys quake ravaged Haiti


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Almont’s Brandon Smith stands in front of the rubble of a Caribbean market. More than 100 people were entombed in the fallen grocery store, but miraculously several victims were rescued up to five days after the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti.

March 03, 2010
ALMONT TWP. — Brandon Smith admits he's scouted some rather interesting projects for the family business, Smith's Waterproofing, but nothing quite compared to his trip last month to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Smith, 30, flew to the island nation on Feb. 10 with a team of contractors and engineers to evaluate what properties are still standing. He was asked to participate in the trip because of his expertise in carbon fiber reinforcement of concrete.

"No building escaped without damage," Smith said.

"Some were so bad that as soon as we walked in and took a look, we made everyone get out immediately."

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They surveyed the prime minister's private residence, the Port-au-Prince airport, several hotels and grocery and hardware stores, among others.

"About ten percent of the downtown is still standing but only half of it is repairable," Brandon said.

Nearly a month had passed since the 7.0 magnitude quake so Brandon and the team were spared from seeing the more graphic scenes but the circumstances were still dire.

"There were no bodies out in the open, but there were still a lot in the collapsed buildings," Brandon said, mentioning the smells they had to deal with.

"There is no electricity, no water. The people are so poor...there's no money to do anything."

So much of the destruction is related to shoddy construction, Brandon said, but the few homes that were soundly built on the hills around Port-au-Prince were usually destroyed by a landslide of debris from their neighbor's homes.

Then there were the tent cities. Some of the team visited a makeshift neighborhood on the last day of their trip. From the safety of a truck, Brandon gave a small girl one of his granola bars.

"Immediately, the truck got swarmed with people wanting food. It was one of the scariest parts of the trip," he said.

"I've never been in a situation like that over food."

Brandon found Haiti to be a very beautiful place, once you looked past the devastation, but that was hard to do being there in person.

"It's worse than what you see on tv," he said.

"Here it's just a picture in front of you on the screen— there it's 360 degrees."

He returned to the States one week later. Now, Brandon and the rest of the Smith family and employees are trying to decide if they'll head to Haiti too.

"There is a lot of work down there for us if we want it. It all depends on whether or not we want to take the risk," Brandon said.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred on Jan. 12. The epicenter was 10 miles west of the capital city Port-au-Prince. It's estimated that more than 217,000 people were killed in the quake.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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