Return to Haiti: an update from our author

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On 12 January this year, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale hit Haiti, with its epicentre near the town of Léogâne, 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake devastated swathes of the capital, Léogâne and Petit-Goâve, as well as badly damaging Jacmel.

The final death toll may never be exactly known, but it's estimated that around 200,000 people lost their lives. The earthquake caused over US$7billion of damage to Haiti's infrastructure. The Inter-American Development Bank has reported the earthquake to be the most devastating natural disaster of modern times.

The lay of the land today

Immediate needs have been immense. A million people were rendered homeless, and up to 250,000 buildings in the capital alone were thought damaged or destroyed. Those who had swelled the shanties of Port-au-Prince in recent decades were particularly affected, with whole neighbourhoods of cheaply built shacks flattened in an instant.

In the aftermath, tented camps have sprung up across the city wherever there is space. Shelter remains a huge priority, with the need for adequate housing urgent in the face of the rains and hurricane season. Rebuilding will be a matter of years, not months, although six months after the disaster the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, charged with leading reconstruction and headed by Bill Clinton, is yet to publish a full reconstruction plan.

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What this means for travel

While non-essential travel to the affected areas is not immediately advised, tourism income can undoubtedly play a part in Haiti's economic recovery. It should be noted that, away from the centre, places like Cap-Haïtien, the northern coast, and the southwest were largely untouched by the earthquake, although most towns have received influxes of those displaced by the earthquake.

The following sights in Port-au-Prince are known to have been destroyed: Palais National, Marché de Fer, Centre d'Art, Sainte Trinité Episcopalian Cathedral and Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral. Grand Rue was levelled, although the artists' community survives, as do the majority of the historic gingerbread houses. In Fermathe, Fort Jacques was damaged. Jacmel's historic core was also badly hit.

In Port-au-Prince, almost half the city's hotel capacity was lost in the earthquake. St Joseph's Home for Boys Guest House and the Hotel Montana were flattened. The El Rancho and Villa Creole hotels were damaged and closed after the earthquake.

In Jacmel, the Hôtel Florita was severely damaged but has since reopened. In Petit-Goâve, Le Relais de l'Empereur was completely destroyed. So, in the short term, hotel space is likely to remain at a premium, and advance booking essential.

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Lonely Planet author Paul Clammer also volunteered in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.