Water valuable as diamonds in quake zone

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti 02/04/10: "Cool water is as valuable as diamonds out here"

By: Mat Mendez

When we departed Pope Air Force Base Thursday morning aboard a military-chartered North American Airlines flight, we were all shivering on the tarmac.

Two and a half hours later, our jackets were history. It's hot in Haiti.

And that's just one of the reasons water has become an even more precious commodity as humanitarian efforts continue.

We arrived at a lightly crowded but surprisingly well-organized Port-au-Prince airport just after 9:30 a.m. The flight was a short two and a half hours and we quickly de-planed.

Larry and Dave were immediately taken aback by the airport's transformation, when compared to their first visit.

It took about four hours to gather our bags and ship out with the unit we'll be spending much of our time with over the coming days.

And once we did, we were quickly caught in a horrendous traffic jam for hours and all to go about five miles.

The streets of Port-au-Prince, on a good day, are barely passable. Now, it takes an armed soldier to direct traffic so we can even move.

We arrived at the 2/325 AIR compound at around 3:30 p.m., leaving us just enough time to shoot a quick story and get Larry and Dave on their way to our live location.

And what a ride that was. Through pedestrian-lined roads that were nearly destroyed, up hills steeper than ones you've likely ever seen.

It was the craziest ride I've ever had.

The destruction, as you have heard time and again, is indescribable in scope. The resilience of many of the Haitian people, however, can only be described as admirable.

As we rode through the streets, we saw corpses still untouched. But we also saw signs of life - vendors, tons of them, selling everything from bananas to cell phones.

What they didn't have was water. They begged for it at gates. They crowded water trucks. They were desperate from not only the heat, but also widespread scarcity.

It made me grateful for what little 80 degree water we had.

And on the one occasion where cool water was brought in, we relished the chance to taste it.

As one soldier said to me as we were standing next to the "water buffalo," as it's called, "cool water is as valuable as diamonds out here."

And in a place where poverty so pervades every facet of life that value is incalculable.

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