Haitian Clubhouse Haven for Thousands of Refugees

A private nine-hole course in Port-au-Prince is now the temporary home for an estimated 50,000 refugees displaced by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti last week. The Haitian government estimates say that the disaster killed between 100,000 and 200,000 people, while millions are now homeless.

According to a report by Reuters (for the complete article, visit http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60I2S920100119), while a massive makeshift tent city is housing the homeless, soldiers from the U.S. military's 82nd Airborne Division are resting on the tennis courts and beside the swimming pool at Club Petionville, a private club atop a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince and the Caribbean. According to the report, the club is now probably the largest single refugee camp on the impoverished island nation.

The club, named after former Haitian President Alexandre Petion, escaped much of the damage, except for a few broken pillars. "The days are long but it is good to help," said Staff Sergeant Michael Watson, who was part of the U.S. military's response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. "Katrina was bad, but this is a lot bigger."

Unlike the chaotic scenes seen elsewhere on Haiti in the days after the earthquake, the temporary residents of Club Petionville form orderly lines on the grounds. Each refugee is allowed two bottles of water - with 20,000 bottles given out so far - and a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) ration. "If they get unruly, we just sit down," Captain John Hartsock told Reuters. "It has only happened twice. They get the message. We don't want everyone going nuts, like the scene in 'Black Hawk Down' from Somalia."

Rony Florial was the club's tennis instructor before the calamitous event occurred. Now he's helping to organize the food and water lines, while off-duty soldiers sleep on his tennis courts following their long and exhausting days. "We are all doing what we can to help," Florial said. "The owners have closed the club and allowed the Americans to take over. It is for the national interest."

Though the grounds are more orderly than elsewhere in and around Port-au-Prince, the club's perched location above the city leads to steep temperature drops at night, which has led to the deaths of several children.

"We need blankets, we need toilets, we need help for the children who have lost their parents," organizer Michel Ovilus told Reuters. "And we need houses. These people do not want to spend the rest of their life on a golf course."