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Haiti: The earthquakes keep coming

Today I slept through my first earthquake, and tried not to freak out during my second. We’ve come down to Leogane, the epicentre of the January quake and focus for much of our emergency response. It’s a relief to be out of the capital. Here a ten minute car journey takes ten minutes, rather than an hour snarled in traffic. From my bed, cocooned in my mosquito net (the mozzies are prolific and tenacious) I can see nothing but blue sky and green palm leaves.

But the devastation here truly gobsmacks. 90 per cent of the buildings are destroyed. Houses are either cracked and uninhabited or simply plots of rubble. And in case you forget what happened here, all you need to do is drive twenty minutes out of town until you reach a large crack in the ground – the earthquake faultline. (If you do so you’ll also have the pleasure of Leogane’s naked car wash; young men in a nearby river soaping down 4x4s and dancing around with buckets and no clothes).

In the Save the Children guest house, the breakfast talk was all about the night-time aftershock. It was at 12.39am, says Joseph, the Kenyan heading up our health work here. It was almost enough to make Allison, the team administrator, desert her bedroom and head for one of the large tents still set up in the garden outside.

Somehow, despite my pathologically light sleeping in London, I managed to stay asleep and miss the deep growl that apparently accompanied the shaking.

Three months after the big quake, aftershocks are now rarer, coming every couple of weeks (unlike the first week when they provoked panic almost every hour). But having lunch on the balcony of the Save the Children office a few hours later, something grabbed the legs of my plastic chair and pulled it sharply twice from side to side. Then nothing.

I looked up and everyone around me was standing, then laughing nervously and moving to the edge of the balcony where other were spilling onto the street below. Only then did adrenalin start to do its job, as my brain tried to decide whether to trust the cool example of the others on the terrace or to make a sprint for the stairs in case there was more to come.

I’m still extremely dubious that any useful instinct would kick in if there were another full-blown tremor. Every time we enter a new room, we are supposed to identify our means of escape. But then come the questions. Is the doorway near enough to get out fast? Will the rickety dining room table really provide cover against falling concrete blocks?

In Leogane, I barely know what is left still to destroy. If I were religious, I think I’d be praying right now.

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