Haiti struggles to rebuild infrastructure

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. President Obama asked Congress today for nearly three billion dollars in additional emergency aid for Haiti. The money would go toward relief and reconstruction after Haiti's devastating earthquake. The January quake killed nearly 300,000 people and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. That includes Haiti's postal headquarters and five other Post Office buildings. But in recent days, Haiti's Post Office resumed service. As The World's Amy Bracken reports from Port au Prince, it's a monumental challenge.

AMY BRACKEN: In the front yard of a small gingerbread style house an elderly woman in a nightgown lies on a bed under a tarp. It's not an unusual sight here. Some ten weeks after the earthquake, people still avoid sleeping indoors. What's odd is that this woman is surrounded by men sorting packages and letters. After the January 12th earthquake leveled the postal headquarters, operations moved to the home of the Postmaster General. But she's also taken in relatives and postal workers who have lost their homes. One of the displaced employees is Marie Claudine Gaston.

INTERPRETER: I lost my mom in the earthquake. She also worked at the Post Office. And I lost my little sister. They died in their house.

BRACKEN: But Gaston continued to work. In fact, she led the team that dug through the rubble of the postal headquarters to salvage what mail they could. The mail being sorted here in the yard is what little was pulled from the rubble. There's also some from a stash that was held at the airport. Herve Gerard is chief of operations for Haiti's express mail service. He sits at a table in the yard going through a pile of letters. One is postmarked January 17th.

INTERPRETER: It was supposed to be delivered January 19th. We will deliver it, but it's difficult because a lot of people don't have addresses anymore. It helps if I have a phone number.

BRACKEN: Actual delivery of the mail has only just resumed. Bas Peu de Choses is one of Port au Prince's largest local Post Offices. It withstood the quake. At the moment it's a repository for the piles of crushed delivery motorcycles. Jocelyn Fontuse is Director of Postal Planning. He says now most delivery is done on foot. About 15 motorcycles were destroyed he says along with more than 30 bikes and two trucks. Very few are left. One of those pounding the pavement is Frantz Jean. He is actually a supervisor with 18 years on the job. At least he gets to use one of the few remaining motorcycles. Jean has more than 300 pieces of mail to deliver today; post cards, letters, bills and magazines. It's all going to a neighborhood where maybe a third of the houses were destroyed. Kay la krase is Creole for the house is destroyed. This is a common refrain. In many cases neighbors have information on missing residents. If they are alive or dead, or if they will be coming back. Some offer to take the mail. Frantz Jean spends the whole day trying to match up people and their letters. I ask him if he and other postal workers have been paid since the earthquake. He says yes, we've been paid for the month of October, but not for any month since. It's a stark reminder that Haiti's government was in terrible shape before the earthquake. Fontuse says postal managers are talking to the government. They hope to pay workers as soon as possible, but they don't know when that will be. Frantz Jean says it's a matter of government corruption. He hopes the international community will find a way to help Haiti's post workers directly. The U.S. postal service has pledged to support resumption of Haitian operations. But it's not yet clear if that might mean paychecks for Haiti's determined mail carriers. For The World, I'm Amy Bracken, Port au Prince, Haiti.

WERMAN: You can read Amy's reporter's notebook and see pictures of her trip to Haiti at the world dot org.