Text and photos by Jim O’Connell / Magnesium Photos
Tokyo “Port-au-Prince is completely destroyed… Things are so bad,” said Jean-Claude Bordes, Haitian Ambassador to Japan, at an emergency press conference today. “I have no words,” he continued, referring to the devastation caused by the magnitude 7.0 quake that hit just outside of the Haitian capital on Tuesday.
The last major quake in the area was over 200 years ago, and the country was completely unprepared. “We are expecting hurricanes every year, but not earthquakes,” the ambassador told Magnesium Photos, explaining that the country seldom experiences any quakes, and those that do happen generally measure between two and three on the Richter scale.
In response to a question from Magnesium regarding looting in the aftermath of the tragedy, he said that there were “no reports of looting—nobody is going out. It is flattened.”
Official estimates on fatalities vary from the tens of thousands to as much as a hundred thousand. “I think it would be much more,” he added, given that Port-au-Prince is a densely populated city of more than two million people. Much of the city is comprised of poorly-constructed buildings. However, even the national palace, described by Bordes as being designed to be “bomb-proof,” along with other buildings of superior construction, “all fell down.”
We are so fragile… I cannot talk too much about it. It bleeds my heart.
Basic utilities such as water, electricity and telephone services have been severely compromised. Bordes has been unable to communicate with his government and has received no official word from the country’s president, but stated that he believed him to be alive. His main sources of information have been friends living outside of Haiti and foreign news websites.
He further related that he had heard nothing of the quake until a friend in Panama emailed him to ask of his family. He thought the email a joke and replied accordingly. Later, news of the unimaginable devastation reached him, though he has yet to receive any official communiqué from his government. Telephone service is spotty at best, and when he was finally able to reach the national palace, he could not get to anyone in charge on the phone and eventually had to hang up in frustration. Most calls, he told reporters, were greeted with the message “Due to the earthquake damage in the area you are calling, there is no communication.”
Bordes reported that the Toussaint Louverture International Airport was largely undamaged and functioning, although the Wall Street Journal is now reporting that it has closed, a move likely to severely hamper relief efforts. The impassible roads made travel even to Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince a few kilometers away, impossible. (Pétionville was the site of a tragic school collapse in 2008, in which 93 people, mostly children, were confirmed killed, and over 150 injured, due to shoddy building construction.)
Bordes described hospitals and schools filled with the bodies of victims, and bodies lying in the streets, in addition to the countless dead and injured buried in the rubble.
“We are so fragile,” he concluded. “I cannot talk too much about it. It bleeds my heart.”