Haitians in Haiti and their supporters across the U.S. commemorated the Caribbean nation’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake Wednesday, marking the 12th anniversary of the devastation with sadness and reflection.
“In the immediate aftermath, an outpouring of support flowed to Haiti from across the U.S. and around the globe to aid survivors and rebuild the nation,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who represents one of the largest Haitian American communities in the United States. “Still, 12 years later, much more needs to be done if Haiti is to ever rebuild and become self-sufficient.”
The magnitude 7 quake killed 316,000 and left 1.5 million homeless, according to Haitian government figures. Another 1.5 million people suffered injuries.
Despite billions of dollars in promised aid, the rebuilding still has not taken root and promises remained unfulfilled. Haiti is in many ways worse off today than it was on the day the ground shook and nearly destroyed the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Thousands remain internally displaced due to the natural disaster, and others have been displaced as well because of recent gang violence in the capital. For every destroyed Catholic Church and home that has been rebuilt, there are scores of other buildings that lie in rubble or where construction has been stalled, including a new Hospital of the State University in Haiti, promised by the U.S. and France, and a Parliament building.
The country remains in the throes of a deepening political crisis after the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a crime that is still unsolved. Instead of an elected president or working parliament, the country has an interim prime minister and just 10 senators, whose end of term remains a matter of debate.
Other continuing fallout of the quake: Three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation flights landed in Haiti on Wednesday, courtesy of the Biden administration. Many of those on board, say immigration advocates, are Haitians who had left their homeland for South America in the wake of the disaster, only to find themselves deported after recently crossing into the U.S. without proper documents.
“As we commemorate the more than 250,000 lives lost in the 2010 earthquake, it is unconscionable for the United States to respond by sending three deportation flights to Haiti including pregnant women and children. That’s 10 flights just this week alone,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigration advocacy group. “It is a classic example of the continued violence the United States has imposed on Haiti and flagrant disregard for Haitian lives. I want to know how the Haitian government can accept this on a day like today.”
In Haiti, flags flew at half-staff and Prime Minister Ariel Henry, joined by members of his government and the diplomatic community, made the annual pilgrimage to Titanyen, the site outside of the capital where most of the dead are buried in mass graves on a barren mountain. There, they laid flowers at a monument with a large rock for a top, commemorating the dead.
“January 12th did not destroy one house only. It destroyed the economy of the whole country. It’s going to take a long time to go back to the way we were before the quake,” said Henry, whose job in the immediate aftermath was to document the dead as chief of staff to the health minister in 2010.
The office of the United Nations in Haiti, which lost personnel in Haiti when part of the Christopher Hotel, where its headquarters was housed, collapsed, called Jan. 12, 2010, “one of the darkest days” in Haiti’s history.
“12 years ago, a devastating earthquake claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Haiti, including 102 members of the @UN family,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a tweet. “Today and every day, we remember the victims & honour their legacy through our work. They will never be forgotten.”
In a statement, the U.N. country team said it remains committed to the country and remarked that the same kind of resilience displayed in the aftermath of the earthquake was also on display Aug. 14, when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck three regional departments, Grand Anse, Nippes and the South, leaving at least 2,207 dead, 12,268 injured and 320 missing, along with more than 129,000 destroyed or damaged homes.
Though the figures are significantly lower than the toll in 2010 they are still high, the country’s chief seismologist, Claude Prépetit, said, when considering the magnitude of the August quake and the population density in the sprawling rural region.
By the time the August quake struck, Haiti had already registered 34 smaller earthquakes, ranging in magnitude from 1.8 to 4.7 in the southern departments, he said in the latest report on seismic activity from the Bureau of Mines and Energy’s Seismological Technology Unit. The Aug. 14 quake itself produced more than 1,000 aftershocks.
The entire population should always exercise caution, Prépetit said.