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'Still Traumatized, Expecting Another Disaster': Remembering The Haiti Quake After 10 Years

A woman wanders the rubble of her neighborhood in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake.
A woman wanders the rubble of her neighborhood in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake.

Ten years ago, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, causing apocalyptic damage in the capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities.

The quake struck right before sundown, shaking Haiti to its core, destroying communities and taking the lives of as many as 200,000 people. A decade later, the country has not fully recovered. 

Sundial devoted today’s program to the Haiti earthquake, how trauma still exists within the Haitian diaspora in South Florida, and the recovery efforts on the island. Host Luis Hernandez was joined by a panel of reporters and experts: WLRN reporter Nadege Green; WLRN America’s correspondent Tim Padgett, Professor Elhanan Bar-On, the Director for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel; Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles, who is in Haiti; and Dr. Marie Guerda Nicolas, University of Miami psychologist.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation: 

WLRN: Are there any remnants of the earthquake, anything that reminds you of the earthquake still in Haiti or has all of that has been erased by now?

CHARLES: The rubble is gone, but when you go by the national palace, it's gone. When you go by a Port-au-Prince cathedral the ruins are still there and it hasn't been rebuilt. And while you don't see the tent cities in plain sight anymore, there are still tent cities. You just have to go off the main roads and see them. So we are constantly reminded of this quake. The rebuilding has been slow. Not a lot of it has been done. But at the same time, people sometimes forget that it was just 10 years ago that the capital was devastated.

A woman walks down a destroyed street in downtown Port-au-Prince nearly a month after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.
Credit PATRICK FARRELL / Miami Herald
A woman walks down a destroyed street in downtown Port-au-Prince nearly a month after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.

What was the biggest frustration for you when you were there setting up? What was the biggest frustration?

BAR-ON: We landed in Port-Au-Prince on day three following the earthquake. And when you deal with these things, you'll always be at a complete imbalance between the needs and your ability to fulfill these needs. So you turn off your frustrations very quickly. You don't deal with your frustrations. You deal with what we call in disaster, doing the best for the most. You obviously change the way you treat patients. Disaster medicine is a profession. It's a state of mind. You change your diskette. You cannot do the medicine you do at home in a tent in Haiti, both because of the magnitude and because of the resources you have. You will not be in a sterile environment so as an orthopedic surgeon, it's a completely different way of treating [injuries.] 

What have you heard, stories about the trauma? Is it still there? Does it still impact people's lives a decade later?

GUERDA NICOLAS: Absolutely. There are things that happen in your life that are never forgotten and that becomes a central part of you. I don't believe it's only related to the 10th anniversary, but sort of every January, every 12th of the month comes for you that you begin to think about the overall impact that it had. I think oftentimes when we think about disasters and we think about trauma, we think about post-traumatic stress. But in this situation, there's no post. We're talking about a constant trauma because I can go around in Haiti right now and still see buildings that still have the quake on them. So those are a constant reminder of these experiences.

How do the Haitians in South Florida feel about their future? What role does the diaspora play in that?

GREEN: I feel like the Haitian diaspora has always wanted to be a part of Haiti and will always want to be a part of Haiti. It will be a matter of whether or not they are received. There is sometimes diaspora fatigue. And folks do check out sometimes. So it's a balance. 

Children returning to school post-earthquake in 2010.
Credit Marisa Penaloza/NPR
Children returning to school post-earthquake in 2010.

We want to hear from you: Where were you on that fateful day? How did the earthquake impact your life? Share your story with us. Email: sundial@wlrnnews.org

It's really our hope that one day Haiti will be able to achieve the heights that we know. We truly subscribe to the motto: unity makes strength. - Maika and Maritza Moulite

On the anniversary, I think of [my father] and all those still traumatized, still expecting another disaster to strike. - Fabienne Josaphat

Out of nowhere we heard a big boom, then the house started shaking from left to right then collapsed. After the earthquake, I saw bodies in the streets, buildings went down, there was darkness because there was no electricity at all. My family and I became homeless, we spent months sleeping in the streets with strangers. My family and I moved to the Dominican Republic to escape the pain and misery. From there we went to the U.S. to seek a better life. - Werley Nortreus

Ten years later, people are asking what happened to Haiti? Where did the money go? Ten years later, Haiti is at a stand still. Men, women and children continue to die. Young men and women of Haiti are rising in greater number asking for change. The system must change. Haiti will not die. - Marleine Bastien

I flew from Fort Lauderdale airport and arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, Jan. 11. My grandmother was to be buried that week. The next day, my family and I found ourselves in the epicenter of the worst natural disaster in the country's history. A day we will never forget. - Will Loiseau

We were in Tallahassee for the first day of Legislative Session. We received an immediate phone call from then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The Governor was a great communicator and showed genuine concern for Haiti, and appreciation for Haitian American leadership. - Florida Representative Al Jacquet

WLRN producer Chris Remington contributed to the production of this episode.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Alejandra Martinez is the associate producer for WLRN&rsquo's Sundial. Her love for radio started at her mother’s beauty shop where she noticed that stories are all around her - important stories to tell.
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