January 12, 2010, is a day Haitians will never forget
“I heard a noise like a storm,” recalls Efanor Nore, World Concern Haiti Country Representative. He was driving with several other people through Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit on January 12, 2010. The road buckled in front of him and another car smashed into the broken concrete.
He’d snapped a photo of a large white building in the city just minutes before the earthquake, not knowing it might be the last photo of the building standing.
“This building totally collapsed after,” he said, “We couldn’t even imagine how many people died in there.”
Efanor spent the next 17 hours trying to get to his family’s home in Petit Goave, just south of the city, but the roads were blocked and he had to sleep in his car. Not knowing if his family had survived, Efanor spent the night praying. “I talked to God in my heart and said, ‘Give me strength … If I am still alive, I will serve the Lord,” he prayed.
“I saw many people—women, girls, boys, and men—coming out into the street and seeking a place to rest. They were covered with dust from concrete. When they saw our car, they asked us to take them to the hospital. I felt really powerless, then I cried,” he remembers.
“When I arrived at Leogane, where the epicenter was located … a woman lay down on the ground in the middle of the street, screaming and weeping. All the communication was cut around 2 to 3 minutes later.
“It was a nightmare.”
Port-au-Prince was in ruins. Cinder block buildings crumbled into dust. While there is no official death toll, the Haitian government estimates more than 300,000 people died in the earthquake.
World Concern’s Response
No World Concern staff were lost or injured in the quake, and the Port-au-Prince office sustained minimal damage. Sleeping in tents on the rooftop for fear of aftershocks, the staff went to work immediately, distributing emergency supplies—bottled water, food, and tarps—to families in need. Over the following weeks and months, World Concern implemented a large-scale response that assisted tens of thousands of people who were affected by the disaster. A massive outpouring of generosity from donors helped meet immediate needs for shelter, water, medical care, and income, as well as plan a long-term response. It was evident it would take years to rebuild Haiti.
In the months after the quake, transitional shelters were provided to families who lost their homes, and cash grants were given to families and business owners to restart businesses that were lost, among other activities.
Since 2010, World Concern has helped numerous communities prepare for disasters in Haiti, equipping families and communities to be more resilient in the face of recurring disasters, particularly hurricanes and storms. The goal is to bring the government’s disaster plans that are in place down to individual families, where training and equipping are needed most.
“Community members have to own the process,” explains World Concern Deputy Director of Disaster Response, Maggie Konstanski. “At World Concern, we don’t see disaster as a one-time event, but always aim to leave a community more resilient and protected than before.
“When communities are truly equipped with early warning systems, trained on how to use them, and they’re owned at the community level, and an effective, safe plan is in place, it does save lives,” she says. “The community wants to protect and save themselves. We’re giving them the knowledge and tools to protect themselves.”
Is there hope to rebuild Haiti?
Despite efforts from the Haitian community, aid organizations, and the government, the unique and extensive challenges in Haiti have prolonged and even crippled rebuilding efforts. Efanor believes only about 3% of buildings in Port-au-Prince have been rebuilt in 10 years. And an estimated 38,000 people still live in tents and makeshift camps that were set up after the quake.
Corruption, gang violence, political crisis, and drugs have left the city in a state of ruin he believes is even worse than 2010.
“Gangsters occupy many places downtown. Many areas are very high risk and not accessible. Even after the earthquake people were able to operate. Now … it’s not safe at all. Most people have fled downtown– no one would want to live there. All the businesses have moved out,” he said.
But as this Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the earthquake approaches, Haiti’s president plans to unveil plans on Friday to rebuild the presidential palace that was destroyed in the earthquake. The lot where the palace once stood has remained vacant since about 2012 when the damaged building was finally demolished.
“(The design) takes into account the history and culture of Haiti,” said Efanor, who believes, “It will be a wonderful building that will remind us of the capital city of Haiti.”
Is there hope for Haiti? Efanor believes so.
“Haiti is really resilient. Even at this time of political crisis … Haitians still have hope,” he said. “They think a new day will come where people around the world will use the example of what Haiti has faced over the past 100 years of suffering to learn … The time of Haiti will come,” he said. “We continue to be an example—positively. We face more than any civilization has faced in the past. We hope to use our past experience to move forward.
“Haitians want peace. And we want solidarity. And Haitians love God. We want people to keep loving God in spite of problems, disasters, in spite of poverty, we thank God – the creator of the universe, who has a plan for the world.”