Haiti Then and Now: 5 Years After Earthquake, Much Rebuilding Remains


A woman prays amid the wreckage of Notre Dame de l'Assomption—the main cathedral in Port-au-Prince—on January 9, 2011. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2011.


Forestein Claude (at left), a laborer for the UN-sponsored Cash-for-Work program, talks to colleagues in front of a home where they found the remains of a woman buried in debris, in Port-au-Prince's Fort National neighborhood on April 1, 2010. Many Haitians worked for the UN program, making about $4 a day to clear rubble. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2010.


Two brothers sit roadside January 3, 2015, in the same spot in Fort National where the woman's body had been found in a collapsed house. Across the street are new homes built by the United Nations Office for Project Services. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


The ruins of Haiti's Marché de Fer, or Iron Market, stand behind a construction fence in Port-au-Prince, on March 30, 2010. The building was built in the 1890s to serve as a railway station. An iconic landmark, it was badly damaged in a 2008 fire and completely destroyed in the 2010 quake. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2010.


Shoppers and vendors mingle January 3, 2015, in an outdoor shopping area near the Marché de Fer. Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, whose company Digicel dominates the Haitian cell phone market, paid for a complete reconstruction and inaugurated the new building just before the one-year anniversary of the quake. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


A man works to clear debris from the site of the collapsed Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours Catholic Church in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince on February 27, 2010. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2010.


A man walks past the site of the collapsed church January 3, 2015. A temporary church was constructed just behind the wall. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


Workers take apart a house in the heavily damaged Fort National neighborhood on March 30, 2010. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2010.


A woman carries her child from her home in the Fort National neighborhood, January 4, 2015. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


Worshippers listen during a Catholic Mass held next to the destroyed Notre Dame de l'Assomption on February 26, 2010. The cathedral, built between 1884 and 1914, was destroyed in the earthquake. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2010.


Congregants gather after a church service held in a new building next to the old cathedral January 4, 2015. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


Horlich Florestal (at left), 24, and Rosemond Altidon, 22, stand on the edge of their apartment building in Fort National January 9, 2011. Half the building was destroyed in the earthquake, killing many of their neighbors, including two cousins and an aunt. Image Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2011.


Florestal, now 29, and Altidon, 27, stand on the roof of their apartment building January 4, 2015. They still live there, and Altidon helped convert the building's ragged edges into a balcony. "I was completely scared when that quake happened because I had never felt an earthquake before," Florestal said. "I didn't know if life would continue. Everything was gone. Life was gone." Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.

Like September 11 in the United States, janvye (January) 12 in Haiti has become a term in its own right, a marker against which time is measured. "His son was born two months after janvye 12."

Monday marks five years since the goudou goudou—the Haitian creole term for the sound that fills the air when a big earthquake happens. The January 12 quake took more than 200,000 lives and left 1.5 million homeless.

I came to Haiti a month later and stayed for more than a year, photographing the earthquake's aftermath for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Getty, and groups like the Red Cross.

I returned to Haiti recently, in the leadup to the fifth anniversary.

After the quake, the streets of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, were strewn with chunks of concrete, rebar, and whatever tropical storms had washed into the spaces in between. Everyone was living life outside: Even those whose homes had not fallen did not trust them to withstand the aftershocks. And every ritual was public: dressing, bathing, grieving. (Learn more about the Haitian earthquake.)

Several months after I arrived, people began to notice my camera and I realized that the Haitians' personal shock was wearing off. It made my job harder, having to explain that yes, there were many of us taking these same pictures of you and, yes, nothing good has come to you because of it—but maybe this time?

Today in Port-au-Prince, red construction fences surround many collapsed buildings. They have been nicknamed tol wouj, which literally means "red tin," but which also refers to someone who promises something that isn't delivered. Behind many of the fences is empty space where no one is working. (Watch our "Earthquakes 101" video.)

The day before the one-year anniversary of the goudou goudou, I wandered into the shell of Port-au-Prince's national cathedral, where only the walls were left standing (above). A woman was winding her way through the debris, holding a white plastic crucifix and wearing a dress the same color as the dusty yellow walls, doing the stations of the cross.

Now the cathedral entrances are bricked up, except one covered with a metal gate that you can peer through to the same view of debris. A new building next-door accommodates worshippers while the cathedral awaits its makeover. Big and welcoming, the new space nonetheless feels temporary.

This year's fifth anniversary is being commemorated in the setting of street protests. Haitians have been concerned that if a new election was not set by janvye 12, the parliament would dissolve and President Michel Martelly become the sole head of government. (A deal has now been struck.)

We don't give Haiti as much credit as it deserves for its ingenuity and savvy in fixing its problems. But much remains to do. Port-au-Prince's streets have been cleared for a while now, and traffic has improved somewhat. New government ministry buildings are under construction around the main city plaza, which is now tent-free and once again features soccer players and ice cream trucks.

But over 200,000 Haitians still live in tent camps away from the main boulevards, and many others are in homes that suffered major damage.

The following gallery features my pictures from this month juxtaposed with images I made in the months after the 2010 quake.