Haiti Commemorates 10 Years Since Massive Deadly Earthquake

Jan 13, 2020
Originally published on January 13, 2020 7:34 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Ten years ago, a 7.0 earthquake absolutely demolished parts of Haiti. More than 100,000 people died and many more were hurt. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story of how the country is marking this disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED PRIEST: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: Amen.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A hot breeze passes through the huge open windows of Port-au-Prince's newly built main Catholic church. Its simple construction sits in the shadow of the once-majestic cathedral still in ruins next door.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: (Singing, unintelligible).

KAHN: The pews are packed. Parishioners are mostly wearing white. Many hold a single candle, passing the flame from one to another.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: (Singing, unintelligible).

KAHN: From the pulpit, Port-au-Prince's archbishop, Max Leroy Mesidor, delves deep into Haiti's trauma from the quake. Everyone knew someone who lost a loved one, whose home was destroyed. Haiti must be reconstructed, he says.

MAX LEROY MESIDOR: (Speaking French).

KAHN: "But before all, we need to rebuild ourselves, our minds, our hearts," he says. "We must be whole again to move forward." The past 10 years have been tough. Promises of reconstruction have fallen far short of the more than $13 billion donated by governments and charities from around the world. Those dashed hopes are felt acutely in the capital, with its major landmarks destroyed, including the National Palace, Parliament and the country's main hospital, all of which have yet to be rebuilt. For many at church, the material losses gave way to personal mourning.

BEATRICE GRANDOIT: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Beatrice Grandoit (ph) breaks down thinking of the 11 family members she lost - aunts, nieces, cousins and her father. Going to church eases the pain, she says.

GRANDOIT: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "Here, you forget the things that happened," but she says, "once you leave, the feelings rush right back." Many stayed for hours at church. Hugs lasted longer, handshakes gripped a bit firmer.

CARL-HENRY DESMORNES: Every time we have to remember this, it's painful. At the same time, we are at peace when we are remembering those who passed.

KAHN: Carl-Henry Desmornes is Haiti's supreme Vodou leader. He also finds comfort in the commemorations. He came to the National Museum for one of the day's official ceremonies. There, President Jovenel Moise used the occasion to lash out at political opponents who staged months of sometimes violent protests paralyzing the economy. Opponents say Moise is corrupt and demand he resigns. Moise denies all wrongdoing.

PRESIDENT JOVENEL MOISE: (Speaking French).

KAHN: "The consequences of the long periods of turmoil and political instability this fall," he says, "caused more harm to the economy than the earthquake." He alluded to Haiti's dysfunctional political scene. Parliament is set to dissolve tonight because elections couldn't be held on time.

MOISE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Switching from French to Creole, Moise says, "today, the urgency is to unite, to rebuild the nation." What's not clear is how he plans to do just that.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.