Haiti’s disastrous earthquake prompts tsumami warning for Caribbean and Central America

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An unprecedented disaster struck Haiti January 12, 2010 At 16:53 local time, 21h53 universal time. A magnitude 7 earthquake, with its epicentre located a few kilometers from Port-au-Prince, has literally destroyed a greater part of the capital, and caused enormous damage to the island.

It was business as usual in Haiti at 16h53: Office workers were behind their computers, taxi drivers were busily hovering the lengths and breadths of the city, while households waited for the return of children from school.

Then, all of a sudden, pandemonium broke. Cars were thrown up into the air before drivers had the time to stop, facades of buildings cracked and collapsed, the ground swelled and bumps appeared everywhere, walls dropped as though the city had been a castle of cards, only this time each card that fell crushed its inhabitants under tons of concrete, bricks, stones, tiles, dust…

An Apocalypse for the 2 million people in Port-au-Prince. After the first shock, came another one at 17h (5.9 °) and another at 17h12 (5.5 °). Several other aftershocks occurred in the ensuing hours, with each of them causing additional havoc.

The destruction is unrivaled: The National Palace, Presidential Palace, Ministry of Finance, Public Works, Ministry of Communication and Culture, Port-au-Prince Court House, the University… are all in ruins. The Port-au-Prince Cathedral as well as the country’s Parliament buildings have also been affected. Thousands of people are reported killed and many others caught under heaps of rubble.

The headquarters of the UN mission in Haiti has been levelled to the ground and over 150 employees working at the time of the earthquake are are still unaccounted for.

An independent Haitian journalist who spoke to AFRIK.COM in the wee hours of the morning said: “Nobody knows anything, no one is reachable, it’s panic. No network works, no water, no electricity, no telephone, no radio, no television, because the transmitters are destroyed. With every single quake, there is a perception that what has not collapsed yet is going to collapse, so we are staying away from buildings.

“As we can’t predict aftershocks, we are completely helpless, we do not know what to do, we do not even know where to call for help. Those found wounded are being treated as best as we can. I was lucky to have been driving in an isolated area at the time.”

The United Nations, France, the United States and Canada have sent disaster relief supplies and services.

Eye witness reports have also evoked scenes of shop looting, especially food, as people anticipate a shortage of essential food items. A chaotic situation in which some observers fear a sudden surge of insecurity in a country ravaged by poverty, the poorest in the Americas.

Haiti has in recent years felt the effect of several destructive weather patterns, including earth quakes and hurricanes.

The earthquake was also felt in Cuba, Haiti’s neighboring island, and much of the Caribbean, Jamaica, and even the Bahamas. Throughout the region, including the French West Indies and much of the coasts of Central America, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, a tsunami warning has been issued.

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By Khaled Elraz, journalist specializing in African societies (communities, rites and traditions). A passionate photographer, he has been traveling the continent for 20 years.
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