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On the third night after the Jan. 12 quake, many people were still too afraid to go home. Instead, they congregated with others, singing hymns and waiting for the sun to rise.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Life in the tent camp in front of St. Pierre Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince is crowded and dirty. Here, the neighbors of Alescandra Simin cook under a tree.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Simin's daughter Midjalannda, 6, stands at the entrance to the tent where she has been living since the earthquake. The family has no money and scrapes together what little food it can day by day.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Simin washes her feet in the morning. "I am just waiting on God to see if he is going to put something in my hand," she says.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Simin bathes Midjalannda in a large metal bowl, the same one the family uses as a latrine at night. She worries about her daughter's weight loss.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Madame Fernand watches after Simin's two children, Midjalannda and the sleeping Midjanna, 2.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Simin is told to come back later after waiting in line for what she hoped would be food. It turned out to be a registration card.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Midjanna takes a nap on her mother's lap.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

The young sisters eat a hot dog bun, the only thing their mother was able to feed them that day. The park they call home is often without electricity.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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Haiti: Living in limbo – Penny candy prayers

In the days after the Haiti earthquake, Alescandra Simin found strength by singing with a group huddled around a single candle in a Port-au-Prince park. Months later, Times photographer Carolyn Cole found Simin and her daughters living in the same park, hungry and with little hope left.

Reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Alescandra Simin bathes her two young daughters in a large metal bowl, the same one the family uses as a latrine when it’s too dark to make their way to the outhouses at the far corner of the park that’s been home since Haiti’s January earthquake.

What was once a pleasant city garden is now a terrible web of humanity, with lines and wires strung from every tree connecting the tarps where hundreds of families have been forced to live.

Alescandra, 23, sleeps with her daughters and her mother on two thin pads laid on top of concrete blocks and old blankets, mud oozing underneath. Plastic bags stuffed with personal items cram every corner of a makeshift tent so low you can’t stand upright. A small trough dug into the dirt floor at the edge of the mattress island directs rainwater downhill. The temblor destroyed Alescandra’s apartment and her mother’s home, leaving them to try to survive together in the tent city.

A single mother, Alescandra is worried about her 6-year-old daughter, Midjalannda, who keeps losing weight.

“They used to give food cards here, but there was a lot of fighting going on … so they would just leave,” she says as she knits, a skill she learned during three years of trade school.

“Now it seems like they are slowing down the food handouts, so it’s getting even harder.”

At midday, Alescandra’s daughters still haven’t eaten. Midjalannda begs her mother for some change so she can buy candy. The younger one, 2-year-old Midjanna, keeps asking for juice.

When Alescandra finally relents, the girls buy a single penny candy from a neighbor’s stand, which they divide into four pieces.

Alescandra holds a rolled-up flier given to her at a nearby medical tent. A colorful diagram explains the four major food groups needed to prevent malnutrition, a baby with a bloated belly shown at the top of the page.

When asked what she plans to do, she just shrugs. “I am just waiting on God to see if he is going to put something in my hand,” she says. “I’m just waiting on that.”

As night comes, the family gathers on the bed as a light rain falls outside. Alescandra has found some bread for her daughters. Midjalannda holds a candle in one hand and a hot dog bun in the other. She chews in silence, staring off at the flickering light.

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