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“Haiti needs the solidarity of all humankind”: HelpAge reports from Port-au-Prince

14 Jan 2010

HelpAge's Emergencies Programme Officer in Haiti, Bertin Meance, reports from Port-au-Prince on the destruction caused by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which struck on Tuesday 12 January:

"The devastating earthquake that violently shook Haiti and destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, is the biggest disaster that Haiti has faced in more than 200 years. The humanitarian community's biggest fear has, in effect, materialised.

Hundreds of people trapped under rubble

The National Palace, Cathedral and UN mission headquarters have collapsed. Most of the houses in the slum areas were not able to withstand the strength of the quake. Several schools and orphanages are also reported destroyed.

Haitian authorities have estimated the number of casualties at about 100,000. From what I have observed in the Petion-Ville, Bourdon and Canape-Vert areas, this is by no means an overestimation. Hundreds of people, some still alive, are trapped under rubble in the slums overlooking Petion-Ville and Port-au-Prince.

The government does not have the capacity to handle the situation. It will take years of support for Haitians to overcome this disaster. This is the time when Haiti needs the solidarity of all humankind.

The situation is indescribable

People have left their houses and have gathered in opens spaces such as football pitches and public squares. Entire families are sheltering under the trees. Thousands of people were seen leaving Port-au-Prince probably to find their families in rural areas. Those who were lucky left with their dead to bury them.

The situation is indescribable. A few images remain in my mind: An older women with her pregnant daughter and wounded son in law trying to flee Port-au-Prince. A priest caught under the rubble of a totally flattened compound, with people desperately trying to pull him free. A medical student with his food amputated being helped by a UN officer. An older women trying to get her wounded daughter to a hospital. A woman trapped in her car, dead.

Shelter, food and support are needed immediately

Thousands of people are homeless and will need temporary shelters. Many are gathered in public squares, afraid to return to their homes. They will need food and water very soon. Organisations need to identify the location of these gatherings and provide assistance as soon as possible.

All members of Port-au-Prince society, mainly the poorest, will face food and water shortages in the near future. All major food stores have been destroyed or damaged. There are reports of looting.

Many, including older people, are traumatised because most living Haitians have never experienced an earthquake. The extent of the loss of human life has left many people traumatised.

Only two or three radio stations are broadcasting. Telephone communication has been seriously disrupted. Millions of Haitians living abroad are without news of their loved ones.

We urgently need support in Haiti to make sure that older people are not forgotten."

Read more about HelpAge's work in Haiti. 

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Bertin Meance
Country: Haiti
Job title: Program Support Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.