Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haitians Hold Moment of Silence a Year After Quake: Nicole Phillips on CTV News
January 12, 2011

Nicole Phillips, IJDH Staff Attorney, is interviewed on CTV News Television Special, Haiti One Year Later, “Was Enough Done for Haiti?”

Listen to Nicole Phillips on CTV News.

About 1,000 people gathered outside the destroyed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince Wednesday to commemorate the exact time the Caribbean country was struck by a devastating earthquake a year ago, which killed more than 230,000 people and left 1.5 million others homeless.

International dignitaries such as Canada’s former governor general Michaelle Jean have also travelled who was born in Haiti, and former U.S. president Bill Clinton were on hand to take part in the ceremonies.

“Everybody, everybody is in mourning right now,” said Jean, who now serves as a United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

She was speaking at a memorial ceremony at Port-au-Prince’s Universite Quisqueya, where 23 people died.

“It’s about remembering all the people who died last year and it’s about also putting all of our belief and hope in life. Life must triumph here in Haiti,” Jean said. “Life must triumph here in Haiti.”

According to Haiti’s government, more than 230,000 people were killed in the earthquake which destroyed huge sections of the capital, including 58 Canadians.

The quake also left many homeless. A year later, hundreds of thousands are still living in tent cities.

A group holds a moment of silence to remember earthquake victims in front of the collapsed Presidential Palace
A group holds a moment of silence to remember earthquake victims in front of the collapsed Presidential Palace on the first anniversary of the earthquake (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

On Wednesday morning, thousands of people wearing white — the traditional colour of mourning — sang hymns while making their way to ceremonies and prayer services around Port-au-Prince to remember those who were killed.

President Rene Preval was expected to attend a memorial mass near the ruins of a Catholic cathedral that was destroyed in the quake.

Evens Lormil, a 35-year-old taxi driver, joined mourners at the Catholic cathedral. He said his wife and two children were in the countryside north of the capital, still too traumatized by the quake to attend the service, or even live in the city.

“I’m here to mourn all the victims,” he said before the mass, which was held in a tent next to the ruined cathedral. “Even though life was bad before the earthquake, it got worse. I am hoping the country can move together and come forward.”

Terez Benitot, who sat outside the mass because there was no more room inside, said her cousin was killed in the earthquake, her house destroyed and her husband, a mason, has less work than before the quake.

“God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day,” the 56-year-old woman told The Associated Press. “Our house collapsed but we have health and life.”

CTV’s Tom Walters, reporting from the capital, said it appears the quality of life in Port-au-Prince has changed little since the quake.

“There is frustration at the slow pace of progress,” he said, as well as a “general malaise” among Haitians that has been compounded by political gridlock and the outbreak of a cholera epidemic.

“This is such a personal day because everybody in Haiti knew somebody, loved somebody who died in the earthquake,” he added. “Moving on remains the challenge.”

In addition to the emotional scars left by the powerful tremor, Haiti is also still dealing with the practical effects of the calamity, Walters said.

Less than 5 per cent of the debris from the earthquake has been cleaned up. And in many cases, reconstruction can’t begin until the rubble is gone.

In a recent report, the aid group Oxfam scolded the foreign organizations and governments for their shortcomings on the ground.

Foreign governments have not done enough “to support good governance and effective leadership in Haiti,” Oxfam said in the report.

“There is some level of normalcy returning to some parts of the country,” Anthony Scoggins of Oxfam Canada. “But in terms of long-term reconstruction, in terms of really trying to help Haiti get back on a path to some sort of sustainable development, there’s got to be some changes made.”

Among the challenges, Haiti’s cholera outbreak has reportedly sickened more than 170,000 people and killed 3,600 — and the United Nations says the epidemic has yet to peak.

As a result, many of the agencies working in Haiti have focused on helping the sick.

“We were in a tent city a couple of days ago and saw a Red Cross team going through with water and soap,” Walters said.

“Everywhere we went in that tent city people seemed to have their bars of soap the Red Cross had given them and they were going through with teams providing instructions on how to properly wash their hands, a simple step in the battle against cholera.”

With files from The Associated Press

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