PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Front end loaders, dump trucks and other pieces of heavy equipment could be seen on the streets around the LaSaline and Saint Martin Districts as U.S. Marines with the help of local contractors began to cleanup the streets in the early morning hours here.
Marines and local contractors in a long convoy of trucks worked steadily throughout the night in an operation dubbed “Street Sweep” to clear away the seemingly endless amount of debris piled along the cities streets, often blocking traffic and providing a haven for disease and criminals.
“We are out here to make the lives of the Haitian people a little bit better,” said Col. Mark C. Gurganus, commander, Marine Air Ground Task Force Eight.
Cleaning up the streets is mutually beneficial to both the Haitian community and the nearly 3,000 Multi-national Interim Force troops on the ground as well as the planned United Nations peacekeeping force yet to arrive.
“Clearing these roads give the Haitian people more mobility as well as making the city more sanitary,” he explained, “It also helps us by clearing a way for our routine patrols,” he added.
The contractors and Marines were able to remove five trucks-loads of refuse blocking avenues that lead down market streets as well as six burned out vehicles and three bus hulls from the roadway.
Abandoned vehicles like these are often used as hiding places by carjackers and thieves to surprise unsuspecting passerbies according to Staneo Matalus, a local bus driver who fell victim nearly a week ago.
“They hid behind an abandoned car and when I stopped to pick-up some passengers he jumped out and put a gun in my face,” Matalus explained, “I had to give him my money or he would have shot me.”
Similar to the situation U.S. Marines faced upon their arrival here nearly three-weeks ago, piles of debris and barren car hulls once cleared are again piled along thoroughfares, giving criminals the ability to channel and control the traffic flow throughout the city.
“I’m glad that someone is finally doing something about this to help the people,” Matalus said. “It’s a very dangerous situation.”
After four days of incident free operations, the Marines have been able to broaden their scope to include more civil-military operations to assist in providing security and stability to the city.
“This operation tonight is just another way we are trying to help stop the violence,” Gurganus said. “We have plans for many more to come, including plans for restoring some electricity and water flow to a local elderly home.”
Even though Sgt. Easton T. Douglas, of 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, was surprised at the overwhelming amount of debris in the streets, the Kingston, Jamaica native said the work involved to clean up the waste is well worth the effort.
“We helped lower the violence with our presence here,” he said “ Now by working with the community we can show them that we are not here to try to scare them with guns, we’re here to help.”