PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The normally traffic-clogged streets of the Haitian capital turned quiet Wednesday as businesses closed and people walked in solemn processions to prayer services marking the anniversary of the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.
Many people wore white, a colour associated with mourning in Haiti, and sang hymns as they navigated collapsed buildings and rubble from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that left much of Port-au-Prince in ruins and, by the government’s imprecise estimate, killed more than 230,000 people.
Evens Lormil joined mourners in a crowd at the Catholic cathedral, its towering spires and vaulted roof now collapsed, waiting for a memorial Mass next to what was once a prominent landmark in a ragged downtown. The 35-year-old driver of the collective taxis known as tap-taps said his wife and two children were in the countryside north of the capital, still too traumatized by the quake to attend the service, or even live in the city.
“I’m here to mourn all the victims,” he said before the Mass, which was held in a tent next to the ruined cathedral. “Even though life was bad before the earthquake, it got worse. I am hoping the country can move together and come forward.”
Terez Benitot, who sat barefoot outside the Mass because there was no more room inside, said she lost a cousin in the earthquake, her house collapsed and her husband, a mason, has less work than before the quake.
“God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day,” the 56-year-old woman said. “Our house collapsed but we have health and life.”
President Rene Preval and former U.S. President Bill Clinton were attending a ceremony to create an earthquake memorial at the National Tax Office, where many workers were killed in one of the blows to the public sector that helped paralyze the government following the earthquake.
Dignitaries from around the world are in Haiti to mark the anniversary. But they are also facing skepticism from a Haitian public that expected more progress toward reconstruction.
Aid groups say only about 5 per cent of the rubble from the quake has been removed and the capital is strewn with some 20 million cubic yards of collapsed concrete and twisted steel debris, enough to fill dump trucks that would encircle half the globe. At least a million displaced people, including 380,000 children, are still in some 1,200 tent-and-shack encampments that sprung up after the quake.