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Haiti in ruins; shock waves find way to Bloomington


By Jake Wright

The full scale of Tuesday’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince is still unknown, but shock waves from the massive quake have found their way to Bloomington.

Twenty-four hours after the quake, millions were left sleeping in the streets without food or water as the world rushed to their aid.

IU is the only university to have in-depth research in Haitian and Creole culture, said
Albert Valdman, Rudy Professor emeritus of French, Italian and Linguistics and director of the IU Creole Institute.

Being the only institute of its kinds, the Creole Institute provides emphasis in applied linguistics focusing on French-based Creoles. David Tezil, Haitian native and IU graduate student, said IU is one of the only universities that offer classes in Haitian and Creole.

“Haiti does not have the infrastructure to be able to prepare or even respond to a disaster of this magnitude,” Valdman said.

Haitian President Rene Preval said he believes thousands were killed Tuesday afternoon and the scope of the destruction prompted other officials to give even higher estimates. It is now predicted the death toll will reach into the tens of thousands.

Valdman said he was planning on traveling to Haiti and being there this week, but luckily he decided to postpone his trip. He said he has many colleagues in northern Haiti that he has contacted and are fine, but is very worried about his colleagues in Port-au-Prince who he has not heard from.

“This is by far the deadliest earthquake to hit the Caribbean,” Valdman said.

IU Professor of Geological Sciences Michael Hamburger said the particular area had not experienced earthquakes of the same caliber since the 1900s.

“They have known earthquakes, but not frequently,” he said. 

The earthquake that originated 10 miles outside of Port-au-Prince could be compared to two earthquakes in U.S. history, he said. Loma Prieta, which hit San Francisco in 1989, and North Ridge, which hit Los Angeles in 1994, Hamburger said, were about the same magnitude as Tuesday’s quake.

Loma Prieta read a magnitude of 6.9 , and North Ridge read a magnitude of 6.7, Hamburger said. Both quakes had a death toll of about 70 but caused millions of dollars worth of damage, he said.

The Port-au-Prince quake originated 10 miles out of the city, compared to the 50 miles outside of San Francisco. The quake also struck a city not able to withstand the intense shaking compared to cities in California which are better prepared to handle high level earthquakes.

“The major difference is Haiti has no building codes, so this size of quake would obviously do quite a bit of damage,” Hamburger said.

Valdman said he was last in Port-au-Prince in November, but is always appalled by the living situations of many Haitians in the city.

Even the Presidential Palace, which Valdman said was structurally sound, collapsed. Valdman said he could imagine every house in Port-au-Prince being damaged and many destroyed.

“The city is designed to maybe hold 50,000 people,” he said, “but had over 2 million.”
Haiti had been struggling long before the quake, Valdman said.  The country was still recovering from damages done by tropical storms in 2008 and many parts only had electricity for two hours on a good day, he said. When in Haiti, Valdman said he had never seen a firehouse or any heavy equipment able to respond to a national disaster.

Solfils Telfort, Haitian native and a research assistant at the Creole Institute working on his graduate degree in French, said his family lives six to eight hours from Port-au-Prince in northern Haiti and found out Wednesday night they were all safe.

Telfort said he is still very worried about the friends and extended family that were living in Port-au-Prince. He has still not heard of the their whereabouts.

“What happened is something that could happen anywhere,” he said. “I hope people will send any kind of help or support they can.”

Telfort said he is very concerned for the security of the people in the area of Port-au-Prince. He said Haiti is a poor country that already had a lack of security. When he heard one of the prisons had collapsed and prisoners had escaped, he said he was very worried there would not be enough security in the already catastrophic situation.
Tezil said he was able to contact his family in Haiti after trying for 12 hours. Tezil said his family lived 25 miles away from Port-au-Prince in Carrefour and are all safe, although he was informed some of his brother’s friends were killed in the quake.

“It is not easy getting in contact with family,” he said. “I was lucky I had friends who could access the Internet.”

Tezil, Telfort and Aldman all said the only way people have been able to contact friends and family in Haiti has been through the Internet.

Like many, Tezil said he was very concerned with the state the country is currently in. He said the hospital he was born at, along with many others, had collapsed, leaving Haitians without any medical facilities.

“At this moment what is important is Haiti needs compassion from international communities,” Tezil said.

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