PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Defying pleas to wait for Haiti's reconstruction, families lugged heavy bundles of wood and tin up steep hillsides Friday to do the unthinkable: build new homes on top of old ones devastated in the earthquake.
The defiance reflects growing anger and frustration among Haitians who complain that their leaders — and any rebuilding plans — are absent more than two weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake damaged or destroyed thousands of homes in the capital.
Few tents have been supplied, rubble remains strewn in many streets, and signs begging for help in English — not Haitian Creole — dot nearly every street corner in Port-au-Prince.
It could take another month to get the 200,000 tents needed for Haiti's homeless, said Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, the culture and communications minister. Haiti now has fewer than 5,000 donated tents.
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In the concrete slum of Canape Vert, an area devastated by the quake, dozens of people were pooling their labor and getting on with rebuilding.
"I have 44 years' worth of memories in this house," said Noel Marie Jose, 44, whose family was reinforcing crumbling walls with tin and wood.
"I got married here. I met my husband here. My mother braided my hair there where these walls used to stand," Jose said. "Even if it's unsafe, I can't imagine leaving. Even if the government helps, it will come too late. This is how it is in Haiti."
Haitians ardently defend their property rights. If a family has occupied land for more than 10 years, they gain ownership rights even without a deed. For some families, small homes have been passed on through the generations. Few Haitians have insurance, and the loss of what few assets they have has crippled countless families.
In Port-au-Prince, teams of looters overwhelmed private security guards in the downtown commercial district, carting off refrigerators and washing machines as well as wood and steel from damaged businesses. Hundreds of bystanders protested the failure of Haitian police to stop them, and cheered "Viva U.S. military!" as a patrol from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division came in to restore order. Police belatedly arrested the men.