PHI BETA IOTA EMPHASIS: On Port-au-Prince’s streets Saturday, many people had not heard of Chile’s quake. More than half a million are homeless, most still lack electricity and are preoccupied about trying to get enough to eat.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The earthquake in Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti last month — yet the death toll in this Caribbean nation is magnitudes higher.
The reasons are simple.
Chile is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes. No living Haitian had experienced a quake at home when the Jan. 12 disaster crumbled their poorly constructed buildings.
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Sinclair said he has architect colleagues in Chile who have built thousands of low-income housing structures to be earthquake resistant.
In Haiti, by contrast, there is no building code.
With a population of as many as three million, Port-au-Prince was a vibrant city, its streets choked with buses and motorcycles. Today you see the legacy of the disaster everywhere: surgeons in scrubs walk the streets; dust suffuses everything, irritating the nasal passages and lungs; surfaces are cracked and fractured – nothing seems fixed or hard; government papers from the national archive blow across the street. The decorative pink stone of the Roman Catholic cathedral, built nearly a century ago, is now a scene of utter devastation. Even those buildings that are still standing (up to 50 per cent of the city was destroyed) are at oblique angles, intersecting with a disorientating effect.
Port-au-Prince seems not like a city at all now, but a waking nightmare where even the most ordinary morning walk can turn distinctly lurid. There is a car in one of the streets behind the national palace that has been flattened by falling masonry. The driver’s body is still at the wheel.