The massive earthquake that ripped through the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince Tuesday sent emotional shockwaves as far as Windsor, with workers from local charities who work in the impoverished island saying they were in grief over the news.
“That poor country,” said retired Windsor police detective Frank Chauvin, who has run an orphanage for girls in Port-au-Prince for more than two decades. “Any other country but Haiti. That country has suffered enough and there are no real building codes down there. Everything will fall down.”
Chauvin said he had not heard anything about the fate of the orphanage, which is situated in the centre of the city,
Reports said the major earthquake struck before 6 p.m.
It toppled buildings, buried residents in rubble and caused untold deaths and injuries. Witnesses in the city said the magnitude 7.0 quake, whose epicenter was inland and only 10 miles from Port-au-Prince, sent panic-stricken people screaming into the streets as a cloud of dust and smoke from falling buildings rose into the sky.
As darkness fell amid scenes of chaos and anguished cries from victims, residents desperately tried to dig out survivors or searched for missing relatives in debris-strewn streets. The presidential palace was among the buildings damaged.
Some 9,000 UN police and troops are stationed there to maintain order. The major quake, followed by several aftershocks, prompted a tsunami watch for parts the Caribbean but it was later cancelled. Calls to the UN mission compound could not be completed.
Najla Thybulle, granddaughter of Paula Thybulle — the woman who runs Chauvin’s orphanage — said she had spoken briefly with her grandmother soon after the quake and she reported that her cement home high in the mountains above the capital shook violently, smashing windows and toppling items off shelves, sending them smashing to the floor. When the roof began to sway and buckle, her grandmother fled the house.
She said she was out in the streets with other survivors, watching as aftershocks sent neighbouring houses swaying again and power below in the city was cut off.
She said her grandmother was frightened by the experience and the uncertainty as night fell. She said, as of about 7 p.m., there was no power to great swaths of the city, unless you owned a generator that had not been damaged by the quake.
“My grandmother said it’s really bad,” said Najla, who lives in Florida. “The ground is still shaking and they thought the roof would fall in. Everyone is in the street, so worried, so scared. They could feel the earthquake way high up in the mountains. All the roads are collapsing.”
She reported the main roads that lead to Petionville, a mountain suburb of the capital, had begun to crumble and sections of the pavement had given way in the ensuing landslides.
Thybulle also heard from a cousin, who runs an export and import business in the nearby seaside community of Carrefour. He reported that he had already counted five of his employees among the dead and about 30 more were missing. A ship they had been loading with sugar was partially submerged in the harbour after apparently being swamped.
Chauvin said he had made several calls through the evening, trying to contact people in Port-au-Prince with no luck.
Keith Spratt, of the Windsor-based charity Hearts Together for Haiti, also reported working the telephones throughout the night without success.
“Haiti just keeps hurting and hurting,” said Spratt, who also has several friends and contacts in the capital. “How much more can they take? Those poor people. It’s just devastating.”
Erin Wladarski, of Active Christians With a Mission, said many of that organization’s supporters had planned a trip into the capital area for later this winter. She said she had visited some of the areas reportedly badly struck by the quake on previous tours.
“The news hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “When you visit Haiti, a piece of your heart stays behind when you leave. I can’t imagine how they will survive. How much more can they endure?”