Armageddon three years on…
Haiti’s conventional image rarely extends beyond succinct summations of a corrupt, dangerous, impoverished and unstable place plagued by a litany of tragedies: man-made and nature-engineered. Perhaps then, it should surprise no one that the tarnished image prevailed, even two years after the cataclysmic devastation.
The reconfigured political landscape some observers characterized as very precarious and fragile in 2009 was completely decapitated on Jan. 12, 2010 when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake cratered the country. Robert Perito, director of Haiti Working Group (HWG), conceptualized Haitians’ cyclical psychological shock to the Columbia Journalism Review (CRJ) a year ago. “Just when we thought things were going well and we’d turn the corner and everything looked good,” he said, “This comes out of nowhere.” Since its 2006 inception, HWG– a program of the United States Institute for Peace—began monitoring Washington’s policy-making on Haiti and encouraging public discussions in its development and U.S.-Haitian relations.
Although Perito’s statement might surprise many Haitians whose frame of reference amounted to abysmal failures from their government, it was not misplaced. In fact, many reports from several economists, studies and political analysts canvassed a soaring sense of optimism that was uncharacteristic of Haiti’s recent history. In “Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security,”a 2009 report economist Paul collier prepared for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, he noted that in spite of its lengthy history of socio-economic fragility, Haiti had “far more fundamentals that the fragile states with which it was conventionally grouped.” Affirming Collier’s findings, the Center for American Progress argued in “Haiti’s Changing Tides,” comparing to the past several decades, the battered country was “experiencing one of the best combinations of open political space and physical security.”
The flow of optimism did not stop there though; Haiti’s leap in its estimated Gross Domestic Product from 0.8 percent in 2008 to 2.9 percent in 2009 reinforced economists’ perceptions about its potential economic emergence. Furthermore, economist Tyler Cowen’s “The Haitian Renaissance of 2010,”posted on his blog Marginal Revolution moments before the earthquake, perceived the macroeconomic data as the writing on the wall: the beginning of the end for Haiti’s downward spiral. While many skeptics disagreed, arguing the data analyzed was insufficient to make broad generalizations, experts agreed on one thing; the earthquake dispelled all theories. “The state has been completely emasculated,” said Haiti native Robert Fatton Jr. who teaches politics at the University of Virginia. “If you look at what happened with the earthquake, there’s nothing; there’s no state,” statement corroborated in excruciating details by countless survivor accounts, including renown Journalist Erilande Sully’s who worked for Le Matin, a Haitian weekly and the country’s second oldest newspaper at the time.
Armageddon’s torturous legacy….
On Jan. 12, 2012, agonizing testimonies of the dreadful day blanketed Haiti like minacious dark clouds, flooding the nation’s consciousness with overwhelming grief, including Sully’s agony captured during an interview he granted to the Foreign Policy Association (FPA).
Shoeless, Sully and his colleagues laughed outside about their building rocking from side to side, something they neither experienced before nor understood. Only a few seconds earlier, he sat in his office, took his shoes off and put his feet on his desk, in search of inspiration for his next assignment. Suddenly, leaping out of his chair, “It sounded like a tank of war was trying to run over our building,” said Sully, “Like a big tank was shooting on our building, so– without hesitating– I ran,” admitting to never thinking about his shoes. Once outside their dancing building that withstood the earthquake, they joked about Sully’s bare feet and quickness, unaware of the massive devastation taken place within that short period.
However, for survivor Pierre Chery interviewed on the eve of the second anniversary of the earthquake, it was no laughing matter. “Thirty-five seconds was enough to turn everything upside down,” he said, reflecting on his struggle for survival. “Seconds have never been so long,” he added during an interview with Le Matin. Even two years after Armageddon, “Goudou-Goudou,” as Haitians referred to the killer-quake, hunted its countless victims, especially Raphaela whose permanent scars painted a scenario of despair and grace. “I was pulled from under the rubble three days later,” she recounted. “And at some point, I lost all hope of survival; it was a painful moment.” To her, the eventual rescue was a miracle. “Today,” she said, “I consider my life as a divine gift.”
Moments later, it dawned on Sully and company; the laughter dissipated. Port-au-Prince, virtually a war zone, was reeling six feet under, so they scrambled around trying to reach family members, recalled Sully. “When we saw the destruction that was all around us, we realized it was something serious and it shocked me,” he said. The only terms he felt would describe what he witnessed were complete chaos and disaster of catastrophic proportions.
“Petionville was turned upside down. People were running in all directions, as if the people were not themselves,” he said, hesitating. “Like they’ve all gone crazy.” He saw people emerging from thick fogs of dust, completely disfigured. “Some people crawled out of collapse buildings covered in blood, while others desperately tried to remove people from under the rubble,” added Sully. “You realized that it was as if the end of the world was upon us.”
By then, the journalist could not locate any of his colleagues also scattered in the cloud of confusion, trauma, and helplessness, as he described the chaotic scenes. “No one was in control of the people and there were no functioning media to communicate with them,” said sully, moving his hands up, down, up again and in all directions to paint the vivid imagery. The radio, a primary communication medium for the Haitian population, nearly 50 percent of which is illiterate, was muted, as many stations caved to the earthquake’s molestation. “There was no cell phone, so you could not reach your people,” he added, slowly shaking his head.
On a parallel plane, amputee Dithna struggled to fight back her tears, as—through her eyes—journalists relived her ordeals. She was sitting on her porch when Goudou-Goudou’s deafening noise caught her by surprise. “The house began to shake with me,” she said. “Even before I had time to save myself, the house collapsed.” After spending two days under the rubble, the worse was yet to come for Dithna. “My neighbors, in order to save me, were forced to cut my leg that was trapped under chunks of concrete,” she added, sobbing. For her part, Marie Marthe admitted losing everything to Goudou-Goudou’s fury. “I’m totally dependent on others,” she exclaimed in a tone reporters described as somber and hopeless. However, it is the memories of her son who perished in the earthquake that made this second anniversary most unbearable for the 67-year-old survivor. “That was an unprecedented event; the experience was painful,” said Marthe. “Something that no one should have to relive.”
Sully agreed: reliving Jan. 12, 2010 would be disastrous, especially since 2-year-old memories manifestly haunted him even today. Those sporadic decrescendos racing up from Vallee de Bourdon to greet him on his way home, and then went silent, followed the reporter everyday since. “You just knew what they were,” he asserted. “To hear the cries of people trapped under the rubble and while you’re walking over the valley, you hear them and then they stop.” It became evident the journalist could not escape the dying voices, as he subconsciously covered his hears while retracing the event. “That moved me to tears”, he continued. “I’m listening to people crying; I’m hearing them screaming, but you can’t do anything for them nor can they help themselves.”
Those unpleasant echoes transcended him and affected him immensely since he could not reach out to help his dying brethren, he explained. Nevertheless, Sully hoped the monstrous human sacrifice was not meaningless. In addition to the current administration declaring 2012 the year for reconstruction, he found solace in this declaration made by Right to Housing Collective during its peaceful march on the earthquake’s second anniversary.
“Remember, you are marching today for those who couldn’t be here. To say to them, we haven’t forgotten; we’ll never forget. And to those that are still here, we will take a stand for the rebuilding of Haiti.”
- Le Nouvelliste en Haiti – L’amendement de la Constitution forclos (rapadoo.com)
- Haiti dictator lives in style before trial – UPI.com (rapadoo.com)
- Post-Quake Giving To Haiti: An Updated Look At Major Charities : NPR (rapadoo.com)
- Bringing water to school in Haiti mission for two at South Florida Water Management District (rapadoo.com)
- To help Haiti, let more Haitians into the United States – From Our Inbox – MiamiHerald.com (rapadoo.com)
- Haitian players’ dreams rise from rubble | FLORIDA TODAY | floridatoday.com (rapadoo.com)
- The Monitor :: Two years on and Haitians still bear the brunt of slow aid (rapadoo.com)