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His heart raced. He and a friend ran through the neighborhood, pushing off concrete and slicing through barbed wire with pliers. In one doorway, they found a young girl who had nearly escaped before the house fell forward onto her lower leg. “Save me!” she screamed. Aliodor looked for a hacksaw to cut her free, but she died in front of him.

Dazed, he followed the crowd through the falling light to the central plaza. People were shouting: The national palace, Roman Catholic cathedral and Episcopal cathedral _ where Aliodor sometimes played guitar _ were gone. He looked for the white domes, but couldn’t see them.

He sat down near a statue of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the liberator and first president of Haiti.

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Hours later Aliodor had still not found his wife, Manette Etienne, their 7-year-old daughter, Sama, or their 3-year-old son, Safa. Pain wrenched his stomach as he pictured them dead. He didn’t know what had happened to the nursing school his wife attended.

He started walking toward his neighborhood. As he reached a gas station, suddenly there was Manette, walking toward him. The children had been saved by a teacher who ran them out of school when the shaking began. They had thought he was dead, too. They held each other and for a moment the broken city disappeared.

“It was like the earthquake never happened,” he said.

By morning, people began carving up the lawns and plazas, marking space with blankets, umbrellas and bits of cardboard to sleep on. Some thought being near the government might mean being closer to the aid. But there was no government there. When Preval came out of hiding, he set up shop at a police station that backed directly onto the airport runway. Maybe he was leaving, people mused.

They wanted to leave. The Champ de Mars plaza reeked. Stagnant fountains became toilets, washing pits for clothes and wells for bath water. Bodies trapped under the rubble started to smell. Those survivors who could got surgical masks. Others painted toothpaste mustaches under their noses.

Two days after the quake, roaring gray helicopters dropped onto the rubble-strewn lawn outside the palace. American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division jumped out with their rifles, packs and armor _ the vanguard of what President Barack Obama called one of the largest relief efforts in U.S. history.

The soldiers took over the airport and stood guard as U.N. peacekeepers handed out rice, beans and water to a desperate crowd. Fights broke out and pepper spray filled the air. Aliodor lined up once for food, then swore never to do it again.

He asked the soldiers why they had come with guns. A young private told him they had been on their way to Iraq when they were told to go to Haiti instead. Aliodor asked why he wasn’t carrying food, water or something to help people build houses.

“He said to me, ‘I’m just a sharpshooter. I’m very good at shooting,’” Aliodor recalled. “But I said, ‘Haiti’s not at a war.’”

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On the last day of March, donors at a United Nations conference pledged nearly $10 billion for the reconstruction of Haiti, with its almost 10 million people. The United States alone promised $1.15 billion for 2010, the largest one-year pledge.

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