U.N. troops, workers rescue Haiti's artwork from ruins

Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:10pm EST
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By Pascal Fletcher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Shifting debris and twisted metal by hand, Haitian workers backed by Japanese U.N. military engineers on Monday rescued remaining valuable paintings and sculptures from the collapsed rubble of one of Haiti's most notable art museums.

The workers and U.N. troops were trying to salvage what they could of Haiti's rich artistic heritage, ravaged by the January 12 earthquake that may have killed up to 300,000 people, according to the country's president.

Port-au-Prince's Nader Art Museum, which with 12,000 paintings housed probably the world's most important private collection of Haitian art, was reduced to rubble by the quake, which also badly damaged the presidential palace, the city cathedral and many other historic buildings.

Since the quake struck six weeks ago, gallery staff have been carefully extracting the most important works from the wreckage. Brightly-colored canvases, many torn and smeared with dust, are piled to one side, while empty wooden frames are stacked in another pile.

Workers carry away wooden and metal sculptures, some missing arms and legs in a grotesque reflection of the horrific human injuries inflicted by the quake.

Georges Nader Jr., 40, son of museum owner Georges S. Nader, said the 'search and rescue' phase of the museum salvage operation was almost over.

"We've been digging for a month ... the hand removal stage is almost over, then heavy machinery will move in," he said. "But if you put a mechanical digger in there right away, you will lose everything."

He was philosophical about the loss to the collection.   Continued...

<p>A boy walks at a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince February 20, 2010. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens</p>