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Earthquake Aftermath: News from Owen Thomas

I was on the second floor of LKM’s round building when the earthquake passed. We were conducting an interview with Artis Fanm, in the middle of asking questions when the entire building began shaking. The seven of us looked at each other briefly before shooting out the door and down the stairs. We were sure it was the school building that was falling down, and were unaware of any outside force. Once we reached the ground several of us fell to the floor, shaking, praying, scared. Moments latter other people’s reports made it clear that it was not the school, but an earthquake. People were indeed afraid, but I was reassured that small tremors happen every once in a while in the area. After a few minutes it was clear that this was not one of these small tremors. A few houses in the area, those built with rocks as opposed to cinder blocks, had fallen in. Luckily there were almost no people injured. A small child was hit by some rocks, but it was not serious. I was with a mother who had not seen her children, and we set off down the road to find them. We were unsure of the destruction, everyone on the road was laughing mimicking the way they had almost fallen down, getting back to what they had been doing, playing dominoes, or giving a friend a haircut.
Upon arriving at the school we checked the internet and turned on the radio. These connections made it clear what was happening. The ground continued to give out small shakes, not regularly, but pretty often. People refused to enter into buildings, unsure of whether or not the worst was over. Upon receiving news however, the immediate reaction was to call people in Port-au-Prince, family and friends, to find out whatever news they could. The phones, however, had shaky service at best. Only one of the three major carriers was working. In Haiti, almost every andeyo, or in the country, has people or a large part of their family in the city. We received word from a few, very few, that they were alright, many calls went unanswered. Now, two days later, people are standing, grouped together in the place that gets the best telephone service, calling in vain, on cellphones that are not working, searching for people. This, it seems, is the biggest problem, a huge lack of communication.
As night began to fall everyone grouped together in the yard of the school, listening to the radio or getting the latest news from the people with computers in their hands. People were very afraid to enter their houses. The majority of people slept outside or did not sleep at all. The radio has been on nonstop, but has been little actual help to the people in Matenwa, in terms of getting specific news.
Now, it is still a question of getting information from Port-au-Prince, about family members. That is the most pressing thing in Matenwa, people are worried, scared, and helpless. As of yesterday, there has been a complete outage in telephone communication. The one carrier that was working no longer has signal. The night after the earthquake the streets were filled with people singing and praying together.
The biggest issue for Matenwa and Lagonave will be one of finding food and other resources. People here are already hungry. It is very difficult to find cooking oil and other necessities, as the merchants who travel back and forth from the mainland have stopped. All places removed from the city are sure to experience these difficulties, but Lagonave, an hour long ferry ride away will be especially bad. The already poor infastructure leading to the Island was shattered, and people are afraid to leave. The one person to arrive in the community from Port-au-Prince, met Enel, reported walking over dead bodies and walking most of the hour long, by car, trip to Karies (sp?), and finding only the sailboat running to Lagonave. The reality has not really set in. Looking across to the mainland, one would never know what had happened. As I write, there are still slight tremors. In the library of the school, as soon as they happen, everyone picks up and runs towards the door. On Lagonave we will wait and see. It is still early, but already the lack of food and supplies can be felt. The price of rice has already gone up 20% in the area. It will be very difficult here. The shortage of food, is sure to effect everyone here and with no connection to the mainland it is unclear when or how it will be resolved.

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