Emotional gatherings mark one month since Haiti quake



PORT-AU-PRINCE, Andrew Beatty and M.J. Smith - Haitians gathered at tearful ceremonies in sprawling homeless camps, churches and alleyways Friday to mark one month since a huge quake shattered their country and killed more than 200,000 people.
President Rene Preval, who has rarely appeared in public since the January 12 earthquake, spoke emotionally in memory of the victims, declaring Haiti "will not die" and acknowledging he could not find words to express his pain.



(AFP/Roberto Schmidt)
(AFP/Roberto Schmidt)
Throughout Port-au-Prince and beyond, Haitians dressed in white or their Sunday best raised their hands in prayer at countless ceremonies, with stages set up in camps where more than a million people who lost their homes now live.
They sang and cried "hallelujah," while the preachers' voices from inside churches and the crowd's powerful responses echoed out into the streets of the ravaged capital city.
In the central Champ de Mars square, across from the destroyed National Palace and where a sprawling camp has been built with scraps and spare wood, people began to gather from before dawn.
Part memorial service, part rally, mourners wept for loved ones lost in an event many simply call "the catastrophe."
Some brought chairs, while others stood all day in the blazing sun in a collective show of devotion.
Domini Resain, 21, said he wanted to stand in the Champ de Mars with his fellow survivors and pray for a better future.
Unemployed and with little prospect of a job, he said he remained hopeful. "I hope that things change completely, everyone wants them to change," he said. "But whatever happens I want to work here. I like my country, I like my people. I am Haitian."
Preval, whose government was decimated by the quake, with ministry buildings destroyed and officials killed, spoke at a service that included leaders from Haiti's main religions, including voodoo and Catholic officials.
He sat sorrowfully in a white shirt and black arm band, joined by his wife and top government officials, as a brass-rich orchestra played a somber rendition of "Amazing Grace."
"Today, allow me to address you as Rene Preval the citizen, the man and the father of a family, to tell you there are no words to describe this immense pain," he said at Notre Dame University in a ceremony broadcast nationally.
"Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die," he said of the world's first black republic, formed after a successful slave revolt.
Some 217,000 people are reported to have died in the quake and an estimated 1.2 million remain homeless, including 650,000 children, in what was already the poorest country in the Americas.
The government declared Friday a day of mourning as many businesses shuttered and most of Port-au-Prince's normally bustling streets were quiet except for the echoes of memorial services.
However, streets leading to gatherings filled with throngs of people traveling by foot, taxi and motorbike to take part in a spectacular outpouring of emotion.
"All the religions of Haiti -- Voodoo, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, we are all gathered here to pray," a preacher in the Champ de Mars said into a microphone. "The Haitian people may be poor, but they are richest in the world in grace and spirit."
About 45 minutes outside the capital, at Titanyen, where thousands of quake victims were buried in mass graves, there was silence, but for a few mourners.
Three men pulled up in a white truck at the desolate site between denuded hills and the Caribbean Sea, one carrying a small Haitian flag, to pay their respects.
"We came here to do something for the memory of the dead," said Joseph Gesner Saint Louis, 35, adding proudly "we are Haitians."
In Petionville, a once well-to-do suburb of the capital, another group gathered at the center of a crowded camp to hear a Protestant preacher.
Near one side of the camp, men waited as their wives collected rice at a food distribution point guarded by UN troops.
The recovery effort has seen a massive outpouring of support from the international community, but even a month after the quake the need for basic items remains acute.
The UN's humanitarian chief, John Holmes, was due to arrive in Haiti on Friday as part of a three-day visit to see the massive aid effort.
The urgency of his mission was underlined Thursday by an early morning downpour.
Aid agencies fear the coming rainy season could bring more cases of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases in the crowded camps, which have few latrines and are often flooded with refuse and human waste.
An estimated 50,000 families, or about 272,000 people, have received emergency materials to build their own shelters, according to the UN office that coordinates humanitarian affairs.
------------------------------------------------------------------

Saturday, February 13th 2010
Andrew Beatty and M.J. Smith
           


New comment:
Twitter

Opinion | Comment