Haiti returning to normal life after quake

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Port-Au-Prince - Haitians, still deeply traumatised by an apocalyptic earthquake that decimated their capital city, are beginning to return to normal life as shops and banks are slowing but steadily reopening.

Peddlers and overseas remittances have breathed some life back into the city battered by a magnitude -7.3 earthquake on 12 January.

Some blue-helmeted UN troops had to guard the re-opening of some local banks and some small commotions erupted.

But a desire to get money to help tide things over and resume life soon got the better of everyone who fell into a single file and entered and left the banks one by one.

Five hours passed and there were still long lines in front of the banks. The customers were patient and quiet, however, as they awaited their turn.

Among those lining up was a youth wearing a popular T-shirt and with a gold chain around his neck. He said relatives in Miami had sent him some money right after the quake, but due to the closure of the banks here he could not immediately receive the remittance.

Statistics show that about 3 million Haitians reside abroad, mainly in North America, Dominica, the Dutch Antilles and France.

Overseas remittance is one of the major sources of the country's foreign exchange. After the earthquake, many overseas Haitians donated money and raised charity funds for the victims. The amount of overseas remittance was also on the increase.

Forty-two of Port-au-Prince's banks have started to re-open since 21 January. Those banks even worked through Sunday to serve their customers. Still, each customer was allowed to only withdraw $2500 at most.

Thanks to the re-opening of the banks, the purchasing power of local people has begun recovering.

Shoppers could find virtually everything they could afford in a high-end grocery store, including imported cheeses, wine and liquor, and even made-in-China pancakes. The store was guarded by armed security officers.

As more people had money to spend, peddlers and hawkers strolled Port-au-Prince's streets and alleys with items ranging from clothing, food, and housewares, to even decorative items.

A United Nations spokesperson said that the city's major shopping facilities would reopen if stability can be maintained.

Haitian authorities have so far put confirmed deaths at over 150 000, with 200 000 people injured in the earthquake.

A total of 55 000 families had suffered directly