Haiti, We’re Sorry…

from Jamaican designer Ruth Francis, thinking of Haiti from the snowy distance of England

The-National Presidential Palace of Haiti on January 11, 2010

Haiti’s famous National Palace a day later

I don’t have words to convey my emotions at the devastation in Haiti or Ayiti as it is also known. The Haitians are a gallant, hardworking people with an incredible history of overcoming adversity. But now it seems as if they really have the worst kismat in the world. As my Facebook friend Unsociable Bastard exclaimed:

“Why [is] Haiti like the Good Friday Bobolie… always getting licks.”

A Bobolie is the Trini version of the straw man that everyone likes to take aim at and beat the shit out of.

It’s Earthquake Awareness Week in Jamaica and the slogan on the Earthquake Unit’s banner was prophetic: “Learn, plan, prepare. The next big quake could be near.” It was 103 years since the temblor that levelled Kingston on January 14, 1907 and 17 years since the last somewhat big one here on January 13, 1993. I was at my desk yesterday, January 12, at the University of the West Indies, at minutes to 5 pm when the monitor started swaying from side to side and i felt the earth move under my feet–very gently of course–unlike Haiti where it erupted like an enraged beast. From that moment onward i’ve been glued to Twitter with my first tweet simply announcing TREMORRRRRRRRR! That was at approximately five mintues to 5 pm. On my way home 15 minutes later i heard that Port-au-Prince, Haiti, had been hit by a 7.0 earthquake. As a friend said in a Facebook chat this morning:

my first news of any earthquake was ur tweet!

and that was before u knew it was in haiti!

twitter amazin

Twitter certainly IS amazing. As the evening progressed it turned out to be the only reliable source of images and live information from ground zero. Ironic that my last post was ruing the backwardness of the Jamaican media in not adopting this protean new medium. As Global Voices Online pointed out:

The Caribbean blogosphere is busy tonight, discussing very sad news – an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale struck off the coast of Haiti, causing major damage and loss of life in the already besieged island nation.

Twitter emerged as the fastest, most time sensitive vehicle through which to report on the catastrophe; Facebook was also full of wall comments on the disaster, from both French and English-speaking Caribbean netizens. One user in Trinidad and Tobago was already collecting “foodstuff, blankets & clothing for Haiti”, asking donors to “label all bags”. Others, like Jamaica-based Annie Paul, quoted lyrics from calypsonian David Rudder‘s ode to the island: “Haiti, I’m sorry…but one day we’ll turn our heads, restore your glory”, following up with links to video of the earthquake, which she found posted on YouTube:

Regional bloggers soon followed with more detailed posts, the most compelling of course, coming from within the island. The Haitian Blogger did a good job of posting regular updates with critical information:

General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is down, Palace is damaged.

No one knows how many dead or injured. The aftershock is reverberating. People can only see dust,

Obama is sending in military troops.

Phone lines that are working are: Haiti-tel and Voila.

All windows are shattered in houses in la plaine

Houses are falling down everywhere.

All the poor on the mountains, whose houses were build on the mountains, all tumbled down, one on top another…

A terrible situation! Devastating. There’s NEVER been an earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti. Major aftershocks happening…

The quake was quickly followed by two nearby, strong aftershocks of initial magnitude of 5.9 and 5.5, the aftershocks were major earthquakes in and [of] themselves.

This is catastrophic. Changes everything.

For the full article go here; and for Global Voices consolidated coverage of the earthquake see here.

I made the point in my last post that Jamaica’s musicians unlike Jamaican journalists had taken to Twitter like ducks to H2O. And to reinforce that point the earliest information on and from Haiti came from musicians there: @RAMhaiti is the Twitter name of Richard Morse (how ironic! Morse, as in Morse code). “Morse and his band are famous in Haiti for their political songs and performances critical of the Raoul Cédras military junta from 1991 to 1994″ (Wikipedia). The other musician was @Wyclef, the famous Wyclef Jean. Between the two of them and a handful of others the earliest calls for aid and reports from the site were transmitted to the world.

One of the last tweets from Morse said: when my batteries die I will no longer be able to communicate..it’s going to be a long night..our prayers go out to everyone. Update: he has just started tweeting again. This was his most recent tweet: RAMhaiti 12:55PM, 13 Jan 2010..I am hearing the siren of an ambulance for the first time as I right this note..

The reason the quake was felt as far away as Jamaica is because as Dr. Paul Mann of the University of Texas puts it:

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault extends from the island of Hispaniola to the island of Jamaica and to the west of Jamaica. The fault has been recognized for many years along with its hazard to cities along it.

The Gonave microplate is wedged between the much larger North America plate and the Caribbean plate. This means that there are two parallel zones of strike-slip faults in this part of the Caribbean (cf map below); the northern zone called the Septentrional-Oriente fault extends along the northern coast of Haiti to the southern Cuba and along the Cayman trough to Central America. The Enriquillo is the southern zone extending from Hispaniola to Jamaica. The two zones merge near the Mid-Cayman spreading center.

I’ll be posting more information as i get it.

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