Haiti: Experiences of the Earthquake

So far the casualty reports from Haiti's earthquake have focused on the terrifying statistics, but very few names had been attached to those numbers. Unfortunately, today, popular Dominican blogger Guillermo Peña confirmed he lost his father, Guillermo Peña Sr., in the disaster. The elder Peña was working in Port au Prince as an engineer with the Santo Domingo construction firm Mera, Muñoz & Fondeur. A coworker of Mr. Pena's also died. A third was injured but has been successfully evacuated to Plaza de la Salud hospital in Santo Domingo and is receiving treatment. Many Dominican and Spanish-language bloggers have already expressed their condolences to Guillermo Peña, Jr., who is posting his thoughts via Twitter.

The DR is feeling the quake’s aftermath in other ways. Dominican blogger Jose Sille’ claims, also via Twitter, that CESFRONT, the Dominican border patrol, is beginning to encounter Haitians desperate to flee the country.

se jodio la vaina, confimado eso de que se perdio el control en la frontera por mi hermana que esta por esos lados

Everything’s screwed, it’s confirmed that control is gone at the border, according to my sister who is up that way.

The rumor of survivors moving to cross the border are unconfirmed, but the Dominican government has announced that the border crossings were open as normal. Dominican hospitals in Barahona and those operated by the military forces are open to receive all Haitians that need medical assistance, and aid centers are opening in Verón, Bávaro, a popular tourist destination. In the same area, according to reports in Santo Domingo media, an Italian resident has set up a collection center for donations at a hotel, the Luna del Caribe, and will transport it to a border crossing at the town of Jimaní. The Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo is reported to be providing transportation for Haitians wishing to go to their country.

Land lines are reported still down: Haiti's cell phone service has fared better. Large carrier Voila’ sustained damage but is still working, according to Voila’’s parent company, Trilogy International Partners of Seattle, Washington, USA.

Eddyson Volcimé, who lives in Nantes, France, was able to use a cell phone to call his mother in Port au Prince shortly after the ‘quake. He gave an interview to a local news channel:

EV:….She is fine. She has no news about the rest of the family though…given that no transport is functioning everybody is on foot, so its really difficult to communicate.

Interviewer: And your mother, whereabouts on the island was she at the time?

EV: She was in Port-au Prince itself, the epicentre of the quake.

Interviewer: She told you what happened on the telephone?

EV: She told me what happened to her, we can't tell what it was like everywhere.

She was in a restaurant at the time the earthquake started, so there was a lot of panic. Some people died in the restaurant itself, as it caved in. She managed to get out.

Since then…well, since then, people are in the streets…well, those who had not had injuries that were too serious in any case.

Interviewer: Are you worried?

EV: For my mother- well, she is ok, everything is fine.

For the rest of the family… we just don't know at the moment, we haven't heard anything…we are waiting for news. There have been victims,  and many injured…

Interviewer: And psychologically is your mother ok?

EV: My goodness!  She has seen a lot in her life, but she is ok, she is alright.

On the ground in Port au Prince, others are still collecting themselves. Survivor Jean Francois Labadie posted his recollections of the disaster a few hours after midnight this morning:

13/01/2010 00:25

First earthquake, umpteenth tremor
12:30 PM : We really need to wish it would be the last one… Seriously, never live twice…
Towards 4:45 PM, with our driver, we enter the parking lot of Karibean, Pétion-ville's big mart. As usual, the way in is slowed by the usual Delmas traffic. While driving up the entry, our Patrol began to dance. I was imagining three or four boys standing on the bumper wanting to swing the car. In front of us, the parking lot ground rocked like the waves at Wahoo Bay. The Karibean building started to dance and in 3 seconds’ time completely tumbled down. A white cloud swept across the parking lot and you could see zombies whitened by dust appearing, in complete panic.
Once the dust has settled again – although the phrase is premature – the heap of concrete from the 4-storied building seems to leave no survivor. Madness has taken over the passers-by trying to seek refuge in the Patrol while the security guards – including one seriously wounded – shut the gate behind us. The driver, having understood quicker than me what was the matter, is putting all his efforts into praying. He yells his incantations, his arms to the sky. Far from piercing my eardrums, he calms me down. He is giving sense to this madness going on under our eyes. After five minutes of torpor, the few motorists able to drive back home force the  guards to open the 15 ft high fence. The sight of Delmas looks distressing, astounding. We will be driving for an hour between collapsed buildings, people running, weeping and yelling their faith in Jesus and calling him with arm signs, heads whitened by dust eying in disbelief, injured people, corpses or bits of them…Jean-Claude goes on energetically singing his faith during the whole trip. My atheism is being lulled by my colleague's religious enthusiasm. The scenes unfold as in a movie seen a thousand times. I even manage to keep down my anxiety  not being able to get back to Jehanne by noticing that the one-storied buildings held out the tremors. I'll hug her before she understands how big the disaster is, as things were better in her part of town. We get ready for our first night fearing the tremors which filled our evening. Our landlord-architect has our complete trust. Till later.

As of this afternoon, the first aid flights are reported to have landed at Haiti’s main airport.

Global Voices’ Special Coverage Page on the earthquake in Haiti is here.

Rocio Diaz reported from Santo Domingo. French translations by Suzanne Lehn and Katharine Ganly.


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