Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Over 100,000 dead in Haiti earthquake

(Updated with images and video.)

It is being reported that over 100,000 people have died as a result of yesterday's massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti:

The capital, Port-au-Prince, "is flattened," said Haiti's consul general to the U.N., Felix Augustin, who said he believed more than 100,000 people were dead. Hospitals are gone, and medical supplies and heavy equipment are desperately needed, he said.

The country's prime minister said the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands.

"I hope that is not true, because I hope the people had the time to get out," Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN.

President Rene Preval said he heard reports of death tolls ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 -- but he said the true toll is not yet known.

What more can one say? It's a catastrophe of such enormity that it's hard even to process what happened. I can only hope that aid and support are getting to the right places and that everything possible is being done to help the Haitian people.


Michaelle Jean, Canada's governor general (our head of state), is a native Haitian, and she spoke today about the devastation:

Jean directly addressed Haitians in Creole, urging them to have "courage" as her voice broke.

In Creole, she explained later that she said "men and women of Haiti, we shall not lose hope. We are known for our strength and resilience and we need to stand courageously before this challenge that is affecting us again."

An aide handed her a tissue as Jean read out her statements in English and French, and spoke of the "the long terrible night, that long day yesterday and that long day today."

"We know that every hour and every day can make a difference between life and death."

Asked if she'd heard from members of her own family, the governor general said she was able to get word that an uncle is safe, but was still unsure of news of other loved ones, but quickly added that "it's not about me today."

"I am only one of many" Haitians worried about their loved ones, she said.

I found her comments deeply moving. (You can see her make them here. She said "it's as if an atomic bomb has fallen over Port-au-Prince," the country's capital city.)

Let me post the clip here:


It bothers me that our (or, rather, our news media's) primary focus -- as reflected in what is reported first -- is on Canadians who have died or otherwise been affected in Haiti. (And this is no doubt the same in other countries, where nationals of those countries are given primacy over the Haitians.)

I understand why this is, and I do not want to make light of Canadian casualties or to disregard the suffering of the friends and families of those Canadians casualties (an Ontario nurse, Yvonne Martin, was the first confirmed Canadian death in Haiti), and Canadians are understandably concerned about and interested in the impact of the earthquake specifically on Canada and Canadians, but the unfortunate implication is that Canadians are more important than Haitians, that a single Canadian death deserves greater attention, is sadder, and is more tragic than the deaths of countless Haitians.

This is to take nothing away from what Canada is doing. Like other countries around the world, Canada has already committed a great deal of support for disaster relief in Haiti. And I certainly do not mean to suggest that Canadians are insensitive to the suffering of the Haitian people. I just find the focus on Canadians -- and the similar focus of other countries on their own nationals -- distasteful, disrespectful, and, at a time like this, rather disgusting.

In contrast, Governor General Jean's statement, which addressed the Haitian people and the enormity of the suffering in human, as opposed to national, terms, was not just moving but the right response, in terms of both tone and content, to a tragedy of this magnitude.


The BBC has images of the devastation -- and of the very human side of it -- here and here. Canada's Globe and Mail has a lot more here

Here are two images from the Globe. The first is Petionville, a neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince. The second is the presidential place in Port-au-Prince.


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  • The situation in Haiti is dire, and will only get worse over time. It is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, so it is up to wealthier countries to try to lend support. The United States will undoubtedly play a major role in the recovery effort, but I hope everyone remembers that the United States also has its own problems, like a high unemployment rate and Americans struggling to support their families.

    By Blogger, at 11:00 AM  

  • Oh everyone remembers and Americans are sending checks in large numbers. They also remember that we're the richest in the hemisphere, and the poorest of us is better off than all but a hadnful of Haitians. The hundred million pledged is about 33 cents per American.

    Americans have big Liberal hearts, for the most part.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 4:40 PM  

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