Haiti Earthquake – 2010

The island of Hispaniola is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With 10 million impoverished citizens, Haiti at the western end is one of the world’s poorest countries — bearing the added burden of being in Mother Nature’s bad books and regularly suffering hurricane damage. In 2008 four hurricanes ravaged the country inside 30 days, killing 800. But that paled into insignificance just before sundown on January 12 2010, when an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale rocked the Port au Prince area, home to three million people.

The quake was followed by powerful aftershocks. Thousands of buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged, including the presidential palace, parliament building, UN peacekeeping headquarters and the city’s cathedral. Houses were flattened or rendered uninhabitable. Shanty towns in the city’s hills were razed and much infrastructure went, including services like electricity and running water. Many tens of thousands died instantly or succumbed to their injury or interment beneath rubble. Hundreds of thousands were made homeless.

As news of the disaster broke, governments worldwide swiftly pledged assistance. Unfortunately, in the quake’s chaotic aftermath, good intentions proved completely inadequate. The harbor was blocked and Port au Prince Airport couldn’t handle the volume of incoming aid. Teams specializing in recovering trapped victims quickly arrived, but couldn’t get in to start work until everyone beneath the rubble should have been dead. Even so, heart-warming rescues were made. Despite a terrible first week when the traumatized populace tried to comes to terms with their ordeal and stay alive in the absence of basic necessities like food and water, the willing but badly organized relief effort did slowly gather pace to alleviate suffering in the shattered city and its environs, with up to 1.5 million people eventually relocated to camps before the rainy season.

When: January 12 2010

Where: Haiti

Death toll: In the chaotic aftermath of this terrible quake countless bodies lay in the streets of Port au Prince and surrounding communities. Mass burials began at once, followed by many more as corpses were recovered from shattered buildings over time. But the absence of effective administration meant no definitive records were kept and therefore casualty figures were best estimates. These range from 150,000 to 250,000 dead.

You should know: Informed commentators suggested that Haiti – already an undeveloped nation by 21st-century standards – would be set back 50 years by the great earthquake of 2010. However, much short- and long-term aid flowed in.

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