Haitians in the United States—along with the rest of the world—are looking on with horror at the aftermath of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that has left mountains of rubble and hundreds of thousands dead in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

 The quake, the largest to hit Haiti in 200 years, struck some 10 miles south of the capital city at about 5 p.m. local time on Jan. 12, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And according to the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C., tremors continued to buffet the city until 3 a.m. the next morning.

With phone and electricity lines down and spotty Internet access, it took some hours before reports began to trickle out of the beleaguered country. But as the tide of information swelled, an increasingly devastating picture of the tragedy emerged. “We are just now beginning to learn the extent of the devastation, but the reports and images that we’ve seen of collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes, and men and women carrying their injured neighbors through the streets are truly heart-wrenching,” U.S. President Barack Obama said today.

The president, who learned of the disaster less than an hour after it occurred, said he immediately directed staff to begin coordinating humanitarian efforts and vowed Wednesday that the nation would have America’s “full support.” “I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives” and offer medical and humanitarian relief, he said to reporters.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who traveled to Haiti, reported on Wednesday, “The only thing to compare it to is Hurricane Katrina. But in the last 30 minutes — or the last hour that I’ve been driving, I’ve seen probably 20 to 25 bodies on the streets. And that’s just on the main avenues in downtown Port-au-Prince.”

With each report, Haitians in the United States say they’ve grown more anxious as many have not been able to connect with family members. “Most of my relatives live in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and I also have family in Jérémie and we have yet been able to get in contact with anyone, which is the worst part because we don’t know what to expect,” Mackenson Bonnet, 24, of Irvington, N.J., told the AFRO.

Francesca Altema echoed his concerns. “I have not been able to speak with my mother or any relatives. This is extremely frustrating because I don’t have any idea where they are, or what the true conditions are.” Altema said her mother did send her a brief text saying she is alive but that many around her are wounded or dead and the widespread destruction is staggering. “The Presidential Palace collapsed. The UN building collapsed. I just don’t know what will happen. All I do is pray,” the 24-year-old told the AFRO.

About 3 million people have been affected by this natural disaster, the Red Cross announced today. Late last night, Red Cross volunteer, Matthew Marek reported on the scene in Port-au-Prince via several posts to the organization’s blog. He said dust from the building collapses lingered in the air and that it was “really a mess.” “People are scared and gathered in the streets… there is really no place to go in many of these neighborhoods,” he wrote at about 10:36 p.m.

For the people of Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, this earthquake is one among a seemingly relentless barrage of tragedies. “Indeed, for a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible,” said President Obama.

“What happened is both a nightmare and a wake-up call,” said Marjorie A. Innocent, of Washington, D.C., whose parents are Haitian immigrants. “Sadly, what’s likely to follow are rising infectious and chronic disease, lack of long-term housing, haphazard medical care, even greater unemployment, a hiatus in education, more social instability, and psycho-social manifestations of desperation—from depression to outright rioting.”’

Innocent, the director of Research and Programs at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said, however, that the country needs more than just a band-aid. “The truth is that this earthquake has provided an unexpected but very real opportunity to provide support for truly sustainable development through training, capacity building and technical support along with financial support. People from the outside can’t just come in to help deal with the immediate crisis and then leave—not this time.”

Bonnet said the prospects of recovery seem dim. “This disaster is going to set Haiti back drastically—as if there weren’t enough setbacks already—because the capital was the bread and butter of Haiti, and only God knows what is left and what it would take to build it back up.”

Haitian entertainer and philanthropist, Wyclef Jean—who traveled to the country—said it will take the proactive goodwill of people across the globe. Jean solicited aid and donations via his Twitter page and website, Wednesday, and called for Haitians in the U.S. to “step up.” “I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse,” he said in a statement issued via Columbia Records. “The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now.”

Those seeking information about loved ones can call the State Department at: 1-888-407-4747. Click here for a list of aid organizations to whom you can make donations.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO