They filled the grounds in front of the collapsed cathedral in Haiti’s capital. To remember. To cope. To pray. Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that changed the face of a nation.
More than 200,000 people perished last January 12 when the earth shook violently for a few seconds. Houses toppled, swallowing residents alive. Government offices and landmark buildings, including the Notre Dame cathedral, came tumbling down.
Five days ago, three more bodies were pulled from the rubble in central Port-au-Prince.
Haitians still come to pray at the cathedral every Sunday. On this day, the crowds overwhelmed the small park in front. People embraced one another and cried openly. There was no reason to hide the sorrow that pervades their lives every day.
On Tuesday, President Rene Preval and other officials joined relatives of victims to lay wreaths at a mass grave on the outskirts of the capital.
Religious leaders also held prayers at the University of Notre Dame. “Let the heart of the people never cease to beat for charity and liberty,” one priest said in his address. (BBC)
In one neighbourhood, a man woke up residents as he walked through the streets at dawn. He carried a Bible and recited prayers. Faith is all that many Haitians have left.
CBC’s Connie Watson reported from Port-au-Prince that while many official ceremonies had been organized to mark the earthquake anniversary, it is in the tent cities that people are reminded every minute of their loss. “What happened January 12, I feel the pain,” said Luckner Daldomble. “I lose my wife with two children. And God give me my life. I lose three house. I don’t worry about that. I worry that my wife and my kids are lost.” (CBC)
At a monument in a city park, Karlenz Almon lit a candle for his wife. After the quake, he said, he spent five hours trapped under rubble. “My neighbours dug me out,” he said. “What I thought was debris weighing on my back was actually the body of my wife. She was dead. It terrified me.” Almon still doesn’t know what happened to his missing sister. (CBC)
Banks, schools and government offices were set to be closed on Wednesday for the day of national mourning.
For the rest of the world, January 12 is a day to mark the horror that unfolded in Haiti.
Haitians in Canada are also mourning the loss of family and friends in the quake. Over the weekend, members of Montreal’s Haitian community packed St. Joseph’s Oratory for an emotional ceremony that brought many to tears. Canadians across the country marked the anniversary Wednesday. In Montreal, which has the largest Haitian community, numerous events were planned. La maison d’Haiti, a cultural hub, threw open its doors and welcomed anybody feeling sorrow over the anniversary, said CBC’s Dan Halton. There were also fundraisers in the city, including one to help provide chicken farms for single mothers in Haiti, and another to support sustainable building projects in the country.
Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s former governor general and now a special UN envoy to Haiti, arrived for a 24-hour visit in the country where she was born. The trip is her first since she took on her UN post. Jean and the former U.S. President Bill Clinton also attended the UN memorial. On Tuesday, Jean voiced her anger at the slow rate of aid delivery, blasting the international community for abandoning its commitments. “As time passes, what began as a natural disaster is becoming a disgraceful reflection on the international community,” Jean said in a public letter co-authored with Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (CBC) Since the quake, the Canadian government has committed $550 million to Haiti. Canadians have raised another $220 million, for a total of $770 million to help offer relief. On Tuesday, the federal government announced where a portion of that money will be spent. Beverley Oda, the minister of international co-operation, announced several initiatives in Montreal aimed at helping Haitian recovery efforts. The announcement, totaling $93 million, includes a project to provide free, basic health services to three million people, the rebuilding of Haiti’s midwifery school, new maternity beds and a pediatric ward. (CBC)
“No one is more frustrated than I am that we haven’t done more,” Mr. Clinton said during his visit to Port-au-Prince, in his capacity as UN envoy to Haiti. But he said he was confident that the speed of reconstruction would pick up.
Denis O’Brien, a supporter of Clinton and chairman of the Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel that is Haiti’s biggest foreign investor, told Reuters the former U.S. leader had a solid understanding of what needed to be done for Haiti. But O’Brien said most members of Haiti’s ruling elite families have done little to help. “They’re making massive profits on the importation of goods, products, services, everything… Profiteering at a major scale is going on here,” O’Brien added. (Reuters)
Several major aid agencies have questioned the effectiveness of the overall response to the earthquake. Medical charity MSF has pointed to a lack of coordination, Oxfam said donor countries had too often pursued their own aid priorities, while Merlin said the large number of NGOs has undermined Haiti’s own health service. International donors last March pledged $2.01 billion for the country’s long-term recovery but by the end of December, the amount distributed totaled $1.28 billion – or 63.6%.
In spite of the money that has been sent, Haitians must cope with their memories every day.
Jane-Eileen Fourcand says she is avoiding watching television on Wednesday. She does not need reminders. Instead, she will quietly remember the death of her mother, killed instantly in the quake, and her father, who was rescued after being buried for 16 hours but died a month later. Fourcand planned to visit her parents’ tomb with flowers in hand and prayers in her heart. And then, she planned to tell a few jokes. “Why? Because my mother always said, ‘When I die, I want you to be happy about it. Don’t cry all over,’” she said. “I know we have to cry to get rid of the pain. But we’re going to make it a little better with these jokes we used to do.” (CNN)
At 4:53 p.m., the time the earthquake hit, Haiti will fall silent to officially pay homage to the dead – and to the millions of lives that were forever changed in just a few seconds.
In some Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, mountains of rubble still stand as they did 12 months ago. The hundreds of tent cities that shelter the displaced were supposed to be temporary. Those sites make it hard to imagine that a year has passed. Many tent city residents have sadly resigned themselves to permanence in those places of squalor. Several hundred members of organizing committees for 17 makeshift camps marched on the streets Wednesday, determined to cast a spotlight on their plight. They carried a sign saying in Creole: “If I don’t stand up, I’m condemned to live in a tent for the rest of my life.” (CNN)
The anniversary of the catastrophe, as the Haitians call it, comes as the Caribbean nation grapples with new crises: a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 3,700 Haitians and a political impasse sparked by allegations of fraud in a presidential election.
International monitors from the Organization of American States decided to wait until the anniversary passed to hand President Rene Preval the results of its election review, which suggests that Preval’s handpicked successor be eliminated from contention. Preval has grown increasingly unpopular as many Haitians preceive the government response to Haiti’s troubles has been inadequate. There is a growing tide, too, of criticism of the thousands of aid agencies that operate in the country.
Earthquake survivors like Michel Clervil wonder why, a year on, nothing has changed in Haiti, why he hasn’t seen any of the money the world sent. He lost his house and was forced to find shelter in a camp, where his wife, Elaine, died of disease. Many people are still suffering, he says, “And we don’t know why.” (CNN)
“If the reconstruction were serious, the mass would be happening inside the rebuilt church,” Carla Fleuriven, a 19-year-old mother of three dressed in a white skirt and blouse, told Reuters outside the Notre Dame cathedral. “We wake up every morning in the dust… We need people who can understand the country, who can change the country.” (Reuters)
“I hear about aid on TV but us in Champs Mars, we’ve never seen it. We have no way to get out,” said 55-year-old Ginelle Pierre Louis. (Reuters)
“The diplomats pass through in the air, in helicopters, but they never come through here on the ground,” said Hyacinthe Minthia, 56, a resident of Champs Mars, which overlooks the heavily damaged presidential palace. (Reuters) Mintha’s daughter, Hyacinthe Benita, 39, lives in a metal and wood shack with a frayed tarp roof and a thin pallet as the only bed for herself and her four children. “We are still here in misery,” she said. “I hope this year brings serious change because 2010 was hell for us.” (Reuters)
Jimmy Jean-Louis, a Haitian-born actor who now lives in Los Angeles but was visiting his homeland, said not much had changed since the disaster. “Everything went down on January 12th,” he added. “It might stay down for years to come.” (Reuters)
The information in this combined article has been gathered from sources including the BBC, CNN, CBC, and Reuters.