Haiti has opened a consulate in Atlanta as the island nation continues to rebuild from the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and prepares for a runoff presidential election next month.

GlobalAtlanta was first to report last May that the country was mulling a consulate to serve a community of more than 40,000 Haitians in Georgia, most of whom live around metro Atlanta.

Gandy Thomas, a diplomat formerly posted in the Orlando, Fla., consulate, is heading up the new office in Atlanta. A person at the office said that Mr. Thomas is in Atlanta, but he did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

The Haitian population in Georgia increased by more than 50 after the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and sent many refugees looking for new opportunities in the U.S., said Saurel Quettan, a board member of the Haitian Alliance Inc.

The new consulate will aid the work of the alliance, a non-profit organization helping the refugees and the broader Haitian community. The alliance provides services ranging from translating documents to filling out citizenship forms and finding medical care, said Mr. Quettan.

In addition to providing a "focal point" for the local Haitian community, the consulate will also play a "critical role" as an ambassador for the country's people and economic needs in Atlanta, said Mr. Quettan, a Haiti native.

Haiti has about 9 million people and is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Eighty percent of Haitians live below the poverty line and nearly half the population over age 15 is illiterate, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

The earthquake devastated the country's infrastructure, and despite the efforts of many international organizations, including Atlanta-based nonprofits like MedShare, CARE USA and MAP International, the rebuilding efforts have been slow.

Mr. Quettan, who has been to Haiti twice since the earthquake, said the progress is mostly behind the scenes, as the country's leaders work to put in place a solid plan that will show the international community that its help is being used wisely.

"There are still 1.5 million-plus people in tents and the infrastructure of the country is still in shambles," Mr. Quettan said. "Local as well as international efforts are underway to make sure that not only that the plan is in place but the actors to execute that plan are also in place."

Haiti becomes the 64th nation with government representation in Atlanta in the form of a trade office, consulate or honorary consulate. The consulate is located at 2911 Piedmont Rd. in Buckhead and can be reached by calling (404) 228-5373

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