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On site: Evaluating buildings, meeting people (MCC photo by Ben Depp)

(MCC photo by Ben Depp)

On site: Evaluating buildings, meeting people

Johann Zimmermann
January 26, 2010

After a few days in Haiti, structural engineer Johann Zimmermann explains how the team of structural engineers working with MCC is speeding up the process of evaluating large building for soundness. Zimmermann is from Harrisonburg, Va., and attends Community Mennonite Church

My morning started off by gently swaying on my mattress under the stars on top of the second-floor roof. I guess it was about 4.0 on the Richter scale, enough to set the dogs barking and roosters crowing. I closed my eyes again for another hour after appreciating the bright and beautiful stars of the scorpion constellation.
First thing after breakfast, one of the MCC volunteers rode me across town on a motorcycle to the United Nations (U.N.) logistics base to see about coordinating work. Weaving in and out of traffic and around piles of rubble in the streets, it took the fraction of the time it would have with a car.
I met a handful of structural engineers who have now arrived to work with them. I'm glad for the quick research I was able to have time for in the two days before coming here. We are using the same damage evaluation system as they are. They were doing much quicker assessments though than we are, 30 minutes max per building: safe, restricted use, unsafe. 
We were taking about two hours per building, already trying to figure out how to do repairs. Today we adopted their quicker system and will note those that need more repair for us to come back to when things get a little more settled. Because MCC knows the groups personally that we are seeing, our group will continue to make a quick assessment of what could easily be done to make it safe. We are also working on entering our reports in a common database with the engineers from the U.N. 
After the first two day of frenzied work, I decided last night to really make a point to not only look at cracks and construction failures, but to take time to talk with people about their families, their feelings and to play with the kids a little. It made me feel much more connected to the human element.
Eight of us from MCC went to a sandwich restaurant for supper at 6 p.m. Yesterday we had wanted to, but the one restaurant in this part of the city that had reopened had already closed at 7 p.m. We've had some good street food during the day; otherwise eateries are only slowly reopening.
You probably hear more news about Haiti than I do or than any of the people that I am with do. We are all so involved with the immediate in front of us. There is no electricity except for private generators and battery storage such as we have at the MCC office. No TV stations up yet. So let me know what's going on here once I return to the U.S.!