Flashbacks of loss: 10 years after the Haiti earthquake

By Heifer International

January 10, 2020

A man hauls a coffin through the rubble of a Port-au-Prince street.
A man hauls a coffin through the rubble of a Port-au-Prince street in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

In This Article

  • While it's been a full decade since the January 2010 earthquake, the trauma remains fresh for many survivors.
  • Heifer staff and project participants share memories from that horrible day.

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing nearly 300,000 people and injuring hundreds of thousands more. The quake’s epicenter was only 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the country’s most populated city.

Claire Pressoir, communication officer for Heifer Haiti, spoke with co-workers and Heifer project participants about their memories from that day, and the hard work of rebuilding their lives in the aftermath.

It has been ten years already since a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people. In addition to the enormous loss of human life, we must also highlight the destruction of the already limited infrastructure and the deep and ongoing trauma for survivors. That fateful day was January 12, 2010, and even today the wounds are not completely healed.

When I bring up the subject with Rodlie and Syndia, two new colleagues, they smile politely, but I can see discomfort in their eyes. After an awkward silence, Rodlie speaks. “I was in a classroom at the university. I remember that the ceiling collapsed on us. After that, nothing, the black hole. I wake up for a while afterwards and I recognize the voice of a friend  calling me. I don't know how I got near him, they supported me so I could stand on my legs, the blood was streaming on me like water in the shower … I am transported to the hospital. I had no news from my family or them from me, it was total confusion. Look at my arms, I still have scars, I do not wish to say more.” Rodlie stops talking and turns to finish her meal. I feel bad. By asking these questions of survivors, I know that I will touch wounds that still hurt despite the apparent scars.

I was in a classroom at the university. I remember that the ceiling collapsed on us. After that, nothing, the black hole.

I invite Heifer staffers Wilbert George, Sabrina Nicolas and Syndia Georges to talk about their earthquake memories with me, and Heifer project farmers Jean Joseph André and Micheline Joseph join us by phone. I start with a broad question, “What do you remember most about the day of the earthquake?” Wilbert explains to me that he will never forget the scale of this disaster, the bodies aligned on the ground, the friends he lost that day, the loss of his home and the family business.

Sabrina says she was stunned by the speed with which the city was destroyed! The streets were unrecognizable, everything seemed to have disappeared.

Syndia shares what she remembers from that day: running, jostling past people in the crowd, wondering what has happened. Nobody had ever told her about the risk of an earthquake. “There were dead people everywhere," she remembers.

Micheline still sees her house and the trees moving, the scene is engraved in her memory.

"What was the hardest thing about the recovery process afterwards?” I ask. The memories, Wilbert said. Sabrina admits she jumps at the passage of trucks that shake houses. Syndia is still afraid another earthquake will hit. André still mourns the death of young people from his town who went to study in Port-au-Prince and died in the quake. Micheline admits that cramps and blackouts caused by recurring anxiety about the earthquake have complicated her life.

Everyone agrees that after the 2010 earthquake they became more aware of their own mortality and the unpredictability of the future. Now, they say, nothing is taken for granted. "I have noticed how life is fragile,” Sabrina says, “and that the best thing to do is to offer the best of ourselves to those around us, especially our loved ones, for the rest of the time we have to live.” -Claire Pressoir

Heifer International first worked in Haiti in 1949, sending cattle and goats. Today, Heifer Haiti partners with local groups to help farmers raise livestock and crops in environmentally sustainable ways. Heifer-supported farmers are producing vetiver, meat, cereals, moringa, honey, dairy products and eggs.

Help farming families in Haiti and around the world.

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