Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Epicenter - the Haiti Earthquake of 2010

Yesterday, there was a violent magnitude-seven earthquake in the island nation of Haiti. 

Perhaps you have never thought much about Haiti – maybe don’t even know where it is. Tragedy befalls all corners of the earth, but I believe this event will be especially harsh. 

Growing up in California, you get accustomed to the notion of the ground shaking due to tension along a fault line. You rarely feel one, yet the threat is always there. You are taught how to hide under your desk or stand in a doorway. You learn to discern whether rolling, rumbling, jerking, etc. Most of the time it is a rather cool natural phenomenon. Then, of course, you wonder, “if I felt it here, where was the epicenter?” …because it was stronger there. Californians have the ever-present notion in the back of their minds that “The Big One” could come at any moment… and is overdue. However, in California there are no brick homes. There are not many tall buildings. There are relatively few bridges. Even the subway (huh??!!) in Los Angeles, very few people ride. Buildings and freeway overpasses have been designed or retrofitted to withstand up to a certain magnitude of temblor. 

 I spent some time in Haiti not long ago. Port-au-Prince is a hilly, crowded, polluted and impoverished city. People sit around in the dirt. Random fires burn in the gutters. Homeless dogs sniff through trash for food. Strange-colored liquids stream through the streets. At night, the city is mostly pitch dark. It seems there are scant public services, except for the well-armored United Nations force that provides for basic security and stability. Unfortunately, all the buildings are made of concrete. 

Port-au-Prince was already a bit scary for me, and I had a nice place to stay. It is scary to imagine what could be happening in that city as I write this at close to four in the morning in the aftermath of that damage. It could get much uglier in the coming days. They do not have the multitude of safeguards we in the United States and elsewhere enjoy – both physically and politically. They will not have the resources or the governmental will to avert an even greater calamity. The Haitians do have something that will prove invaluable – resilience. Hopefully, that will be enough to prevent total chaos. In short, I hope you felt this earthquake in some way, because at the epicenter it is much worse than you may be able to imagine. 

God bless Haiti.

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