Beside a Vast Graveyard, a New City Rises in Haiti

Carmen Cean, a.k.a. “Madame Roy,” poses for a photo on a foundation near her home on a hilltop in the Village de Pecheur neighborhood of greater Canaan, January 10th, 2019. (Photo: Allison Shelley)

Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another.

When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 2010, it sent the concrete floors of buildings toppling down upon one another, crushing people beneath. It sent mothers and fathers digging for their children, sent tens of thousands of people abruptly into early graves. Their bodies were buried by the thousands at Titanyen.

But a place with space for the dead is a place with space for the living, and in post-earthquake Haiti, space was in short supply. Some 1.5 million Haitians—one out of every six—were displaced by the earthquake, and many were left homeless. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began eyeing the vast stretch of vacant land east of Titanyen as a place to house them, and with the help of the United States Navy and the United Nations, they erected hundreds of small, temporary structures to house 7,500 people at a spot called Corail-Cesselesse. Haiti’s president used eminent domain to declare the land public, which Haitians took to mean free. Within days, people began flocking to the area around Corail, building shacks out of tarps and wood. Soon thousands of people were migrating north to this once-empty landscape, lying down bricks that would become the foundations of their future homes.

Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another. Called Canaan, after the biblical holy land, a place defined by death has come alive.

Read the full story at Pacific StandardThis story was produced in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.