thirty-five seconds

February 11, 2010

The government of Haiti is now reporting the earthquake death toll at 230,000—with additional bodies still not having been counted. We have all heard many times through various media reports about the number of lives lost, but I think it is important to keep stating it first. This figure equals the same number of lives lost in more than 14 countries in the 2004 tsunami. Numbers do not seem to mean much; they are hard to grasp and easy to disregard. It is only when we begin to hear the stories of the potential that each one of those lives held that the magnitude of loss begins to set in. Today, a lady named Cleromene came to collect one of the tarps that World Relief had distributed to her church in Cite Soleil. During the earthquake, her home collapsed completely—killing a 16-month-old in her care who was trapped on the first floor. Since that day, Cleromene and six others have been sleeping outside that very building without a single covering. They eventually located the body of the baby boy, but they were unable to have a proper funeral for him.

We spent the latter part of the day surveying the worst damage in the city. Our first stop was our collapsed World Relief office. It was worse than I had imagined—by far. I felt sick to my stomach as I tried to understand how this place I had known so well had transformed into a deformed mess. Thankfully, nobody died inside. But somehow the comparison of before and after the quake made me better understand the shock people must be in after seeing their homes literally turned upside down. When we moved on to the downtown area, the sights of collapsed buildings and tent camps were overwhelming. No words can adequately describe the extent of destruction. Each corner would be shocking by itself. When you see them all together, for blocks and blocks in every direction, the reality of it all is too much to adequately absorb. All of the symbols of Port-au-Prince’s pride—the palace, the justice department, the cathedral—are destroyed. As we gaped out the window, our country director, Dr. Hubert Morquette, kept repeating, “And all of this in thirty-five seconds. Thirty-five seconds.”

The most difficult part of the day, though, was seeing the personal effects strewn about as we climbed over rubble. Plastic flowers, a teddy bear, a single shoe—items that were all not where they belong. I know that in the midst of all of this, there are of course stories of hope. “Life continues,” said Dr. Morquette adamantly, as we concluded the drive. And he is right.

But, at least for tonight, I mourn.

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One Response to “thirty-five seconds”

  1. Sr. Verde Says:

    Keep up the postings. Your friends in Rwanda are praying for you.


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