by Stephen Lendman
With all their woes, the last thing Haitians needed was the calamitous earthquake (the most severe in the region in over 200 years) that struck Port-au-Prince, surrounding areas, and other parts of the country on January 12 at about 5PM (2200 GMT), devastating the capital, possibly killing hundreds of thousands, injuring many more, and disrupting the lives of millions of people already overwhelmed by other crushing hardships.
An AP report said "journalists found the damage staggering even for a country long accustomed to tragedy and disaster." Many hundreds of thousands lost everything, including loved ones.
Tremors were felt across the country and throughout the region. Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, however, are in shambles. Rubble is strewed everywhere. Roads are impassable. One to Delmas collapsed down a mountain burying many homes underneath. The airport closed, then reopened so relief flights in began. Fires were burning across the city. The National Cathedral and Palace of Justice, Haiti's Supreme Court, collapsed. So did the Presidential Palace, UN headquarters, hotels, other municipal buildings, business structures, schools, hospitals, churches, everything in an event of biblical proportions.
People were wandering the streets dazed, searching for loved ones. Power is out so communication only by satellite phone is possible, and there's no TV or radio. In the wealthy Petionville neighborhood, a hospital, ministry building and private homes collapsed. So did other buildings across the capital and in rural communities like Leogane. Jacmel in the southeast also sustained major damage.
Poor Haitians in homes built on mountains suffered heavily as reports said they tumbled down, one on top of another likely killing everyone inside.
The US Geological Service (USGS) reported that the quake was felt throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in Turks and Caicos Islands, southeastern Cuba, eastern Jamaica, in parts of Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, and as distant as Tampa, FL and Caracas, Venezuela. Its epicenter was about 10 miles off the Port-au-Prince coast, close to the surface at six miles underground. No tsunami is expected as initially feared.
Registering 7.0 (other reports said 7.3) plus severe aftershocks, (dozens so far with readings high as 5.9) it:
"occurred in the boundary region separating the Caribbean plate and the North American plate (dominated) by left-lateral slip motion and compression (close to the surface), and accommodates about 20 mm/y slip, with the Caribbean plate moving eastward with respect to the North American plate."
Head of earth hazards at the British Geological Survey, David Kerridge, said:
"there is a strong possibility of landslides, which may have caused many causalities in more remote parts of the island."
Earlier Warning Unheeded
Writing in Haiti's Le Matin on September 25, 2008, Phoenix Delacroix quoted geologist Patrick Charles of Havana's Geological Institute saying:
"conditions are ripe for major seismic activity in Port-au-Prince. The inhabitants of the Haitian capital need to prepare themselves for an event which will inevitably occur...." Citing a real danger, he added: "Thank God that science has provided instruments that help predict these type of events and show how we have arrived at these conclusions."
He explained that the dangerous Enriquillo Fault Zone extends across Port-au-Prince, starting in Petionville, traversing the Southern Peninsula to Tiburon. Noting earlier tremors in the area, he said a larger earthquake usually follows. Nonetheless, no precautions were taken, leaving Haitians vulnerable to what's now all too apparent.
It's reminiscent of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city on August 29, 2005. Warned in advance, the city was woefully unprepared even though it's shaped like a bowl, lies below sea level, and its Gulf coast location is hazardous.
What was called inevitable, finally happened leaving catastrophic destruction for the city's most vulnerable, the majority poor black population targeted for removal, needing only an excuse to do it. The storm wiped out public housing and erased communities, letting developers build upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice city land. Perhaps a similar scheme is behind Haiti's current catastrophe with developers ready to take full advantage for long in the works plans, waiting for a chance to be implemented, in this case rebuilding the choicest parts of Port-au-Prince and surroundings and excluding poor Haitians from them.
Catastrophic Death Toll, Destruction, and Human Desperation
President Rene Preval told the Miami Herald that the toll was "unimaginable" and estimated thousands died. He said:
"Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. (The main Port-au-Prince ones either collapsed or were too structurally unsafe to be used.) There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them. All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe" as many thousands are believed buried beneath rubble. Haitian aid groupswere trying to find their own dead and missing. Limbs protruded from under piles of disintegrated concrete, and muffled cries came from inside wrecked buildings.
The parking lot of Port-au-Prince's Hotel Villa Creole is now a triage center. Doctors Without Borders set up street clinics to treat the injured and said:
"The level of care we can now provide without (infrastructure) is very limited. The best we can offer (is) first-aid and stabilization. The reality of what we're seeing is severe traumas - head wounds, crushed limbs - severe problems that cannot be dealt with at the level of care we currently have available with no infrastructure really to support it."
The Red Cross estimates at least three million Haitians need emergency relief - everything, including food, water, makeshift shelter in tents and medical care. It also reported that it ran out of medicine and needs help to replace it.
Louise Ivers, clinical director of Partners in Health (providing essential healthcare to needy Haitians and the poor in other countries) said:
"Port-au-Prince is devastated, lots of deaths. SOS. SOS. Temporary field hospital (run) by us needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us."
Other reports described houses in rubble everywhere. A former Oxfam employee. Kristie van de Wetering, said:
"There is a blanket of dust (likely toxic creating another hazard) rising from the valley south of the capital. We can hear people calling for help from every corner. The aftershocks are ongoing and making people very nervous."
Raphaelle Chenet, Mercy and Sharing charity administrator said:
"I saw dead bodies, people are screaming, they are on the streets panicking, people are hurt. There are a lot of wounded, broken heads, broken arms....There is no electricity, electric poles are down all over the place."
She also heard explosions, believed to be from ruptured gas lines, and people familiar with what afflicts poor Haitians fear the worst. Their neighborhoods are densely crowded. They have large families and live in cardboard and tin shacks, likely leveled by the quake leaving them homeless.
Nations throughout the world offered aid, and some already arrived, Venezuela's perhaps first on a C-130 with a 50-strong advance humanitarian team on board. Immediately after the quake, Chavez ordered an aid team sent comprised of doctors, engineers, search and rescue specialists, and civil protection officers, as well as food, water, medical supplies, and rescue equipment. He also promised more would follow.
Other countries also reacted quickly, mostly a few Latin American ones, not those with more conservative governments promising only token aid. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sent electricians to repair power lines. Cuba sent or already had on the ground about 350 doctors and medical supplies. Various EU nations made token pledges at a time massive amounts are needed, including large teams of skilled professionals for every imaginable need.
In a prepared statement, President Obama promised "unwavering support," but expect little for poor Haitians. He said:
"....our efforts are focused on several urgent priorities. First we're working to account for US embassy personnel and their families in Port-au-Prince, as well as the many American citizens who live and work in Haiti (around 40,000 or more)."
He also promised $100 million in aid, not for poor Haitians, for those who'll profit at their expense, and the amount is a trickle of what's needed.
Militarizing the city with US Marines and other forces comes next to protect the privileged, prevent looting, and restrain Haitians once they realize America won't help and has no concern for their welfare. Why now if never before?
Total control is top priority, the process currently underway with the Washington Post reporting on January 14 that the Pentagon dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, a large-deck amphibious ship, transport aircraft, and helicopters to Haiti. US Coast Guard vessels already patrol its coast to interdict fleeing Hatians and return them forcibly.
Air Force General Douglas Fraser said a Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2,200 members will arrive in several days, and an 82nd Airborne Division 3,500-strong army brigade is on alert and ready to go, an advance team already sent - not to help, to take control at a time Haitians need food, clean water, shelter, medical care, heavy equipment to clear rubble, everything, not more armed killers, besides the hated UN force and repressive Haitian National Police.
Haitians in America Denied Temporary Protected Status
If Obama meant real support, he'd end decades of discriminatory policies and grant 30,000 undocumented Haitians in America Temporary Protected Status (TPS), what George Bush denied and so does Obama despite pressure throughout his first year to relent.
After Congress established TPS in 1990, Washington granted 260,000 Salvadorans, 82,000 Hondurans, and 5,000 Nicaraguans protection, then extended it on October 1, 2008. It lets the Attorney General grant temporary immigration status to undocumented residents unable to return home due to armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other "extraordinary and temporary conditions."
Besides El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, past recipient countries included Kuwait, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Montserrat, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Angola. El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan still have it.
Haitians never got it, yet granting it is the simplest, least expensive form of aid to let them help by sending remittances back to families, more in need now than ever. In 2006, they sent $1.65 billion, the highest percentage from any foreign national group in the world. Cutting it off now is unthinkable.
Nonetheless, until the January 12 quake, TPS status was denied and deportations continued throughout Obama's first year. It's still denied with the Department of Homeland Security saying only that they're temporarily halted because of the current catastrophe. Nonetheless, the South Florida Haitian community is hopeful with Andre Pierre, Haitian-American mayor of North Miami saying on January 13:
"The White House is going to have to come up with something else within the next couple of days or next week at the latest. They are going to have to give TPS."
Miami activists unsuccessfully pushed for it throughout 2009, one of the most active being Cheryl Little, executive director of the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. Expressing frustration she said:
"Repeated calls for the US government to grant TPS to Haitians have been fruitless. If not now, when."
At a January 13 news conference, Representative Kendrick Meek (D. FL) said he believes it will come in "weeks or days," but, so far, the White House is firm in not doing it.
According to Director Randy McGorty of Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami in a February 2009 statement, it reflects "policy toward Haiti....based on racism. It's shocking. People (lack everything and) are starving. This callous disregard for human life is inexplicable," in commenting on how bad conditions were a year ago following the devastating summer 2008 storms.