Haiti: 9 years after the Earthquake
Fr. Rick Frechette writes about the ninth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti.
When Haiti was devastated by the infamous earthquake of 2010, the world had not seen a comparable disaster since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It was also one of the first disasters in the age of cell phones and instant messaging. The size of the disaster, and the ease of instant communication worldwide, sparked immediate and universal awareness, concern, and mobilization to help the suffering.
The devastation in Haiti was similar to the damage from war, with 200,000 fallen buildings and dwellings, massive damage to urban infrastructure, and a death count believed to be at least 230,000. Since the earthquake hit the most populated area of Haiti, more than 2,000,000 people were severely affected and 300,000 critically injured.
When we see such high numbers of destruction, we tend to freeze up in our minds and hearts. It is hard to comprehend the number of people killed during World Wars I and II, including the unspeakable deaths, numbering in the millions, of the Shoah. How to imagine the numbers massacred in Rwanda in 1994, or the hundreds of thousands who died in the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004? It all seems too surreal to be able to touch us.
And yet, much of the sorrow and pain comes through to us.
Many of you reading these words share our sorrow at the loss of scores of cherished workers, friends, and family members whose brutal way of dying left our hearts shocked and empty.
Many of you came here to help us tend to the wounded, the sorrowful, the thousands of children who could not find their mothers. You came to help save the dying and to bury the dead. You came not only to help share food, clothing, water, but also to share tears and to share hope.
I think all of us were inspired by the deep faith of the multitude of survivors, chanting day and night their lamentations and hymns of supplication from their makeshift tents on boulevards, in city squares, and by every wayside.
We were inspired by heroism that could not be dreamed up by the craftiest novelist: fathers digging for trapped children through rubble with bare and bleeding hands, limping mothers carrying their wounded children on their backs to St. Damien Hospital for help, and many of our staff who, while wounded and grief stricken themselves, worked long shifts day and night to assist the endless lines of those rushed to our care, crushed and in agony.
It was a time of darkness, and yet a time of great light. A time of enormous tragedy and also of unbelievable heroism.
On January 12, we will once again place a wreath where our original St. Damien Hospital once stood in proud service for many years, and then crumbled to nothing in 34 seconds on that day in 2010.
We will offer prayers for the dead and sing the Easter proclamation for all those who died, especially for Molly Hightower and Ryan Kloos, who died there in our original hospital. We will pray in thanksgiving for the survival of Erin Kloos, Dr. Manuel Castro, and Rachel who were spared death in that place on that day.
In the afternoon, we will celebrate Mass in Titanyin, the site of hundreds of people we buried ourselves over those days and where there are many mass graves of countless dead, resting there near the sea.
Please join us in spirit, in sentiment, and in prayer, as we relive the ninth anniversary of our great national sorrow.
We also take this occasion to rekindle our deepest gratitude and bonds of friendship with you, for the love, solidarity, and help so generously shared over those many trying months.
Fr. Rick Frechette CP, DO
President, NPH Haiti
Photo above: Memorial wall at the rebuilt St. Damien Pediatric Hospital displaying the names of the dead from our NPH family, victims of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.