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Earthquake 7.0 – The Big One

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On January 12th a catastrophic 7.0 M. earthquake rocked Haiti. It occurred about 12 miles west of Port au Prince, the nation’s capital city that has a population of one million people. Within a few days, there were 52 recorded aftershocks. The entire quake lasted 45 seconds. In less than one minute, normal turned into a tragedy unseen in this part of the world.

The quake caused damage to many landmarks, including the Palace, most major government buildings and a Roman Catholic Cathedral, killing the Archbishop. The United Nations and many world governments have rushed aid to the Haitians. I may not have accurate numbers but have read that the death toll ranges from 100,000 — 250,000. My guess is it may be even higher than that. Another 300,000 have been injured and over a million are left homeless.

My trip was three months after the initial destruction. While most of my time was spent rebuilding a school, I was struck by a number of things:

– The City Hall has been removed and the lot is now empty.
– The Palace and most major buildings remain damaged with little work seen from the street
– In some neighborhoods, everything has been destroyed. In other places, the damage is only sporadic. It is difficult to find any major building that is not damaged at this time.
– Getting electricity or water is sporadic  – no way to live.
– One is struck by the enormity of the destruction. Broken concrete is everywhere.
– There are tent cities everywhere. Not only do you see tents and tarps, but each temporary “house” is within inches of a “neighbor”. People continue to live in these canvass houses. In some cases, you can see rather orderly government issued tents but for 90% of what I saw, it was tarps and small tents.
– The major need is water. There are water stations and everyone lines up to get containers filled for survival.
– Raw sewerage flows along many roads. Rivers and streams are dark and polluted. The beaches around Port au Prince are unusable.
– There are only a few hospitals in working order. Most schools and Churches have been destroyed. But, there are make-shift classrooms with children eager to learn.

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The United Nations has a huge presence with a major compound surrounded with barb wire and men with guns. You see their trucks roaming the streets. I imagine the initial need was for law and order and looting. I am not sure what the UN is doing now. It may be very worthwhile.  It is also unclear what relief efforts are taking place. As crazy as the conditions seem to an outsider, the Haitians seem to be coping with their lot.

I saw only a handful of bulldozers. Many larger buildings that collapsed are still untouched. In the case of buildings that are being “repaired,” it is usually men with chisels trying to disassemble them. It is a long arduous process.

It should also be noted that many Haitians fear sleeping in buildings. At one orphanage, the building was undamaged (no cracks), but all the children and adults still sleep in tents next to it. They do go in and out of the building but never sleep in it. If I survived a quake of this magnitude and 52 aftershocks, I would think twice about every being inside as well.  In summary, the destruction is wide and deep. One is struck by the amount on dust and debris that is everywhere. Trash is three feet high in places and Haitians are trying to rebuild but without major equipment.  They are a resilient population. I will address the people tomorrow. If you have had an experience in Haiti or comments about what you know or have personally seen, I welcome them on my blog. I am particularly interested in what the UN is doing at this point. It is a complex country made more complicated by an uncooperative earth.

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