Mourners Commemorate Haitians Who Died In Quake

One year after the earthquake, Haitians gathered in churches Wednesday to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of people killed in the disaster. People are still living in camps, and the country is far from returning to normal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

On the same evening that Americans paused to remember six dead in Tucson, people in Haiti paused to remember the deaths of thousands.

INSKEEP: One year after an earthquake, it's estimated that one million people are living amid rubble. They're living in tents. It was all too easy to look around and remember the disaster.

MONTAGNE: Haitian leaders are telling residents to have patience, and that's exactly the quality that for many people is running out.

NPR's Carrie Kahn begins our coverage.

CARRIE KAHN: At 4:53 yesterday afternoon, Haiti stood still. It was a moment to remember that same time a year ago, when everything moved.

JUNIOR LOUHA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Junior Louha says he was sitting in front of his work, a carpentry shop, when everything began to shake. His first instinct was to run back inside the shop, but the walls began to crumble. He says he just stood in the street as the roar of the quake grew louder and the ground shook harder.

LOUHA: (Through Translator) I ran home as fast as I could. There were so many dead bodies. I got to my house and couldn't believe my eyes. It had collapsed. The roof was on the ground. I dropped to my knees and screamed, Jesus, no. Not my children. No my wife.

KAHN: Neighbors came and told him his children had survived, his wife, too. But one year later, the whole family is still living in a tent in the sprawling encampment on what was once the city's country club. He says he never thought they would be here a whole year.

All over the country, Haitians spent the day remembering. Businesses and schools were closed. Commemorations were held, as well as church Masses.

(SOUNDBITE OF A HYMN)

KAHN: At the ruins of the National Cathedral, where the once majestic pink church stood, thousands dressed in white shirts, gathered to mourn the dead and celebrate the survivors. The Pope's envoy to Haiti, Cardinal Robert Sarah, told the crowd that the country must rise out of poverty.

ROBERT SARAH: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: To do that, he said people, will have to work together, fight political turmoil, and corruption. He urged Haiti's youth not to blindly follow politicians who just want power - a clear reference to the volatile political situation engulfing the country. The second round of presidential elections has been indefinitely postponed amid allegations of fraud and voter intimidation during the first round.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive did not address the current political instability at a press conference yesterday. He and former U.S. president Bill Clinton gave a one year report on the progress of the Interim Recovery Commission, the two co-chairs.

JEAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Speaking through a translator, Bellerive acknowledged the criticism of the Commission, that it has not made enough progress in the past year.

BELLERIVE: (Through Translator) While we need to move quicker, we cannot move quicker than the funds.

KAHN: He says only 15 percent of the more than $5 billion pledged to Haiti from donor countries has arrived. President Clinton said he understands the frustration people living in the camps must feel. He said he would go crazy if he had to live there.

BILL CLINTON: I would imagine that we have another six months to a year of very hard work before there is a general feeling on the street in Haiti that this thing is working. There were just too many people who have been hurt too bad who have lost too much.

KAHN: Both men urged Haitians to be patient.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SEWING MACHINE)

KAHN: Sitting at his sewing machine, in his tiny tent in one of the largest encampments in the city, Tou Tou Vitale said at the time of the earthquake he was at his house sewing then too.

TOU TOU VITALE: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says he had lots of clients and was able to provide well for his six children.

TOU VITALE: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Now he has no more clients, his children are hungry, and he can't afford to send them to school. He says they want patience - Vitale looks up from the bright orange school uniform he's sewing and says, I have no patience while my children suffer.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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