Haitian Earthquake – January 12, 2010
On January 12, 2010, one of the most horrific catastrophic events in modern history occurred on the island nation of Haiti. It was a Tuesday afternoon, about 4:53 p.m., when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated and forever changed the physical and social landscape of this proud country. People were nearing the end of their work day or arriving home when the quake struck. The initial event was described by some as a sudden lateral shift of the ground, with a sense of locking, followed by a release, accompanied by deafening pounding and booms, with concurrent vertical and lateral translation of the earth of 10 to 12 foot magnitude. A cataclysmic shifting of the earth then occurred on the streets. People were thrown many feet into the air.Huge crevasses pulled open, one side rising and the other dropping. Some crevasses closed, slamming shut with deafening explosions. Buildings and homes immediately imploded, as hundreds of thousands of people were immediately crushed to death, with hundreds of thousands horrifically maimed for life. In an instant, skulls, torsos, abdomens, and limbs, succumbed to weight of stone and cinder blocks. Initially, some tried to escape their confines, only to be pinned by thousands of pounds of bricks, cinder blocks, and stones. Many that escaped buildings and homes did so leaving their limbs behind. Then, the smoke, with synchronized screams, cries, and howling prayers filled every street in a city of over 3 million people. Outlying areas suffered similar fate, or worse. Cries of “Jesus, Jesus” echoed down rubble and dusty, smoke-filled blocks.
Infrastructure vanished in an instant, with disruption of electric, water, and telecommunications systems.
Bodies lie everywhere, only to be serenaded by the screams of the dying and the maimed. The event lasted approximately a half a minute, yet early estimates were that 250,000 to 300,000 perished with 200,000 to 300,000 forever paralyzed and disfigured.
This event represents one of the worst events to affect the human condition in our hemisphere in our lifetime and one of the worst natural disasters in recorded human history.
The earthquake caused major damage to Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and other settlements in the region. Among some of the major landmark buildings in Port-au-Prince destroyed were the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly Building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, the main jail, and Hopital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haiti (HUEH), which was the largest hospital in Haiti and home of its state medical and nursing schools, as well as being the headquarters of all residency training programs in the country. The losses in Haiti were particularly devastating, particularly for the human and physical healthcare infrastructure of Port-au-Prince. 150 of the students in the nursing school (the entire second and most of the third year classes) were killed, and the school facilities were completely destroyed. 60% of the medical school’s physical infrastructure was rendered irreparable and two-thirds of HUEH’s buildings and wards collapsed or were rendered unusable by the earthquake. Many of the teaching faculty and students had not returned, and the staff that continued to work were coping with desperate situations with lack of economic and infrastructural support. In the nights following the earthquake, many people in Haiti slept in the streets, on pavements, in their cars, or in makeshift shanty towns, either because their homes had been destroyed or they feared standing structures would not withstand aftershocks. Almost immediately, Port-au-Prince’s morgue facilities were overwhelmed. By January 14, thousands of bodies had been placed on the streets and pavements, including many on the doorstep of HUEH. Government crews manned trucks to collect thousands more, burying them in mass graves. In the heat and humidity, corpses buried in rubble began to decompose and smell. Everywhere, the acrid smell of bodies hung in the air, thousands of bodies everywhere. The situation was described as almost surreal and as close to hell on earth as has ever existed.
After the quake, many countries responded to appeals for humanitarian aid, pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers, and support personnel. Communications systems, air, land, and sea transfer facilities, hospitals and electric networks have been damaged by the earthquake, which hampered rescue and aid efforts; confusion over who was in charge, air traffic congestion, and problems with prioritization of flights further complicated early relief work. As rescues tailed off, supplies, medical care, and sanitation became priorities. Delays in distribution of aid led to angry appeals from aid workers and survivors, and some looting and sporadic violence was evident.
As if the destruction of all inter-connectivity, including electric, water, and telecommunications was not enough, the destruction of prisons, the ongoing cholera epidemic, and the presence of prior ousted political figures, such as Baby Doc and Aristide, has made the landscape, political, economic, and social climate of Haiti challenging, to say the least.
The terrible suffering caused by the earthquake of January 2010 seems insurmountable, yet the world continues to try to support Haiti and its reconstruction efforts.
With time comes complacency, and we at ORSI are hopeful that the flames of service awareness remain high and that a brighter future through collaborative partnerships and then aggressive proactive approach will have positive impact on the future of this devastated nation.