The Great Masak Flood of '08

On the weekend of my departure from Haiti I headed out to the beach at Kabik, forty minutes drive east along the hurricane-challenged coast road, for a day of rest and relaxation. The beaches were still piled high with rubble and debris washed down from the hills by the season's storms, but the road was fine.

After a glorious afternoon of grilled lobster and lounging in the Caribbean surf, and a night spent dozing beside the lapping waves, I awoke to a breakfast sky full of ominous black clouds pushing down out of the mountains. By midday, they had burst, drenching the lawn, the beach and the sea in moments. It was one of those dense, wall-like monsoons that seem only to happen in the tropics. The grass underneath the coconut palms was quickly soaked to capacity, so that the runoff flowed out of the yard and through the gate onto the beach, as if it were a creek.

I didn't fear for the road back to Jacmel, and from there onward to Port au Prince and the airport, until we piled in the truck and headed west. On either side of the road were the modest stucco one-room houses of Haiti, standing in puddles, some with the water reaching well up their front doors. The pavement was awash with water. After only a few kilometers we reached the village of Masak, only to find that the repairs made since the recent alphabetical barrage of hurricanes had been most temporary. The berm of hard-packed earth, and the insufficient culvert installed below it, had entirely disappeared. There we were, on the wrong side of a raging river that bisected the road. Across the torrent was a similar clump of sodden travelers, hoping to change places with us.

The former road, at Masak

Near the high tide line, below the road, the river was raging in its urgency to dump Haiti's topsoil into the sea, but it was possible to cross.

Some said that after all the hurricanes the land was just too soaked with water; there was no way it could absorb any more, and so even a comparatively minor rain wreaked havoc. Others said Haiti's devastated environment had finally reached its tipping point.

No football today.

Sylver carried my luggage while I ineptly staggered through the torrent, trying to keep my flip flops from being ripped off my tender feet. (Author and his tender feet not pictured).

Once across, we hired a tap-tap, the garishly painted miniature pickup trucks that serve as public transportation throughout Haiti. I said au revoir to Sylver and he recrossed the river to secure our truck, which we had been forced to abandon on the other side. Crammed into the cab of the tap-tap, with Andrew Bigsinski all but wrapped around the stick-shift, we drove cautiously down the still-gurgling road toward Jacmel, passing dozens of flooded thatch-roofed homes on either side. It is difficult to imagine what the scene would have been like during an actual hurricane.

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