Emotional gatherings mark one month since Haiti quake

2010-02-13 10:31

Haitians gathered at tearful ceremonies in sprawling homeless

camps, churches and alleyways yesterday to mark one month since a huge quake

shattered their country and killed more than 200 000 people.

President Rene Preval, who has rarely appeared in public since the

January 12 disaster, spoke emotionally in memory of the victims, declaring Haiti

“will not die” and acknowledging he could not find words to express his


Throughout Port-au-Prince and beyond, Haitians dressed in white or

their Sunday best raised their hands in prayer at countless ceremonies, many in

camps where more than a million people now live after losing their homes.

In the central Champ de Mars square, across from the destroyed

National Palace where a sprawling camp has been built with scraps and spare

wood, people began to gather from before dawn.

Part memorial service, part rally, mourners wept for loved ones

lost in an event many simply call “the catastrophe”.

Some brought chairs, while others stood all day in the blazing sun

in a collective show of devotion.

Domini Resain (21) said he wanted to stand with fellow survivors

and pray for the better future he still believed would come.

“I hope that things change completely, everyone wants them to

change,” he said. “But whatever happens I want to work here. I like my country,

I like my people. I am Haitian.”

Preval, whose government was decimated by the quake, with ministry

buildings destroyed and officials killed, spoke at a service that included

leaders from Haiti’s main religions, including voodoo and Catholic


He sat sorrowfully in a white shirt and black arm band, joined by

his wife and top government officials, as a brass-rich orchestra played a somber

rendition of Amazing Grace.

“Today, allow me to address you as Rene Preval the citizen, the man

and the father of a family, to tell you there are no words to describe this

immense pain,” he said at Notre Dame University in a ceremony broadcast


“Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die,” he said of the world’s

first black republic, formed after a successful slave revolt.

Some 217 000 people are reported to have died in the quake and an

estimated 1.2 million remain homeless, including 650 000 children, in what was

already the poorest country in the Americas.

The government declared yesterday a day of mourning as many

businesses shuttered and most of Port-au-Prince’s normally bustling streets were

quiet except for the memorial services.

However, streets filled with throngs of people travelling by foot,

taxi and motorbike to take part in a wrenching outpouring of emotion.

“All the religions of Haiti – voodoo, Catholics, Baptists,

Protestants, we are all gathered here to pray,” a preacher in the Champ de Mars

said into a microphone. “The Haitian people may be poor, but they are richest in

the world in grace and spirit.”

About 45 minutes outside the capital, at Titanyen, where thousands

of quake victims were buried in mass graves, there was silence, but for a few


Three men pulled up in a white truck at the desolate site between

denuded hills and the Caribbean Sea, one carrying a small Haitian flag, to pay

their respects.

“We came here to do something for the memory of the dead,” said

Joseph Gesner Saint Louis, 35. “We are Haitians,” he added proudly.

In Petionville, a once well-to-do suburb of the capital, another

group gathered at the centre of a crowded camp to hear a Protestant


Near one side of the camp, men waited as their wives collected rice

at a food distribution point guarded by UN troops.

The recovery effort has seen a massive outpouring of support from

the international community, but even a month after the quake the need for basic

items remains acute.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, arrived in Haiti

yesterday as part of a three-day visit to see the massive aid effort.

The urgency of his mission was underlined the day before by an

early morning downpour, as the deputy head of the UN mission, Anthony Banbury,

warned that aid groups would not be able to supply adequate shelter to all

homeless Haitians within the next few months.

“I think it’s almost certainly going to be the case there are going

to be a lot of people without good shelter by the time the rains really come,”

said Banbury.

Aid agencies fear rain could bring more water-borne diseases to

overcrowded camps that have few latrines and are often flooded with refuse and

human waste.

An estimated 50 000 families, or about 272 000 people, have

received emergency materials to build their own shelters, according to the UN

humanitarian office.

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