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Environment

Matthew, the bird's eye view of a photographer

United Nations photographer Logan Abassi was among the first to witness the path of destruction left by Hurricane Matthew along the remote southwestern peninsula of Haiti. A veteran of previous natural disasters in Haiti, Abassi was not prepared for what he saw.
7 Oct 2016 – 05:31 PM EDT
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On the water front of Jeremie where houses were battered by the storm surge.
Crédito: Logan Abassi/MINUSTAH

By Logan Abassi, Port-au-Prince, HAITI

On Wednesday flying low in a United Nations helicopter over Haiti southwestern peninsula barely 24 hours after Hurricane Matthew’s merciless passage, the reality suddenly began to come into focus.

Where quiet fishing villages once nestled between the hillsides and the sea, lay scenes of devastation, roofless homes exposed to sky, others literally blown to pieces as if by some giant weapon of mass destruction.

Mother Nature has been unkind to Haiti in the past, but as we swept low over one coastal community after another, it was something else to behold.

See Logan Abassi's photographs from Haiti

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After having covered the Gonaives floods in 2008 with 15 feet of flood waters filled with all manner of decrepit and decomposing matter, and having survived and covered the earthquake in 2010, I thought I was quite desensitized to the after effects of natural disasters.

Riding on the back of the moto taxi from the airport outside the city of Jeremie, I kept having to remind myself to close my mouth before I ate too many flies. The scene I rode through was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

Cut off from the rest of the country – from the world – this remote region of farm villages is one of the most forgotten parts of the country. Ironically, it was also one of the least deforested - until now.

Trees that once covered the hillsides, and shaded the small tin-roofed homes in this once picturesque colonial city, were snapped and toppled, stripped bare of all foliage, or simply gone.

The homes that weren’t buried under the fallen timber, sat naked to the sky, their roofs flung all over the landscape. All around the houses, clothes, and bedding, mattresses and chairs, lay out in the sun to dry – giving the landscape an odd dichotomy of epic destruction and colorful festivity.

People along the road worked to chop up the trees, to clear the roads, their yards, their living rooms; to rescue their buried houses and cars, pots and pans and anything else that hadn’t been blown away.

In town, oddly enough, the damage seemed less biblical. Roofs had been blown off, trees knocked down, roads flooded, but it didn’t have the same feel of unstoppable power having been unleashed on the world. This type of damage I had seen before.

It was still sad, but seeing entire hillsides of trees flattened, scared me. I would never want to be in the path of one of these monster hurricanes. It was hard enough just seeing the after effects.

Logan Abassi is the chief photographer for the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)

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