As the world already knows, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti yesterday afternoon near Port-au-Prince, the capital and largest city of the country. The earthquake, the strongest to hit Haiti in more than 200 years, devastated the 2 million people who live in and near the capital. According to some reports, the death toll could possibly run between 100,000 to 500,000…and untold numbers are still trapped. But, 80% of Haiti’s 9 million residents were already desperately poor, and after years of political instability, the country had no real construction standards to begin with. Tens of thousands of families lost their homes as buildings that were “flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions” collapsed in the earthquake. As Edwidge Danticat, the award-winning Haitian-American author said, “Life is already so fragile in Haiti, and to have this on such a massive scale, it’s unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this.”
Heart-wrenching pictures and videos on various websites show bodies of tiny children piled up, corpses of women laying on the street, men dead and buried under rubble with broken limbs, collapsed homes, and crumbled hospitals. Ann Curry (@anncurry), news anchor of NBC News’ TODAY , tweeted: American in Haiti: “It’s worse than a war zone…Women are screaming because they found their loved ones in the rubble.” And, one woman told a journalist from under a collapsed kindergarten, “Please take me out, I am dying. I have two children with me.” But, the hospitals in Haiti that haven’t collapsed cannot possibly handle all the earthquake victims.
Many of us who have family throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have been particularly affected by this terrible tragedy. We know that the earthquake in Haiti could have happened anywhere and could have affected any of our loved ones. Thus, we cannot turn our backs on our sisters and brothers. Yesterday’s earthquake was felt in the Dominican Republic (which shares the same Spanish-speaking island of Hispaniola with Haiti) and in eastern Cuba — all in Latin America. Además, a number of people in the Twitterverse have tweeted that they felt the ripple of Haiti’s earthquake in Puerto Rico. And, Haiti’s hermanos in Puerto Rico are showing their solidarity by donating dinero, comida, agua, refugios temporeros, servicios médicos y apoyo emocional.
I am so happy to see humanity stepping up to help our sisters and brothers in Haiti through this horrific tragedy. I am also proud of the U.S. government for immediately stepping up and showing solidarity with the once demonized Caribbean nation (unlike former President Bush’s response to Katrina, which devastated thousands of Americans):
- This morning, President Obama announced that Haiti has a friend in the U.S.: “There are just a few hundred miles of ocean between us,” he said.
- The State Department added a hot line for those trying to contact relatives in Haiti: 1 (888) 407-4747.
- The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) halted all deportations to Haiti for the time being, in response to the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake.