Haiti pauses to remember major quake a year ago

Wednesday was the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, one of the worst catastrophes ever in the Western hemisphere. Tens of thousands of people were killed, one million were left homeless, and much of the country is still in ruins. Schools were closed and shops opened late across the country as many took time to honor the dead and remember.

Thousands gathered for a Catholic Mass in the shadow of the destroyed national cathedral in downtown Port au Prince. One year later, worshipers remembered the day the earth shook, buildings crumbled, and lives changed forever.

More than 200,000 died from Haiti’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake. And more than 1 million were left homeless.

Pierre San Fritz Robert is one of them. In his arms was 2-year-old Christela, the daughter of a neighbor killed in the quake. A large raised scar covers half of Christela’s left thigh. She was scorched by a pot of boiling water as she fell from her mother’s arms when the quake hit. Amid all the tragedy of the last year, Pierre’s still thankful.

“In a way it is a great day for me,” he said. “I can not complain because it is a miracle from God, it is a miracle from above that I am still alive.”

The Mass was held under a tent in front of the cathedral ruins. Most people wore white, a symbol of mourning in Haiti. The front row was filled with Haitian dignitaries and political candidates. Rapper and short-lived presidential candidate Wyclif Jean, sat on the the end.

Some people stood in front of a large cross on the side of the church, waved their hands back and forth and prayed aloud. One man lay flat, in the rubble, a rosary lay flat on his chest. Arms stretched, eyes wide open, he prayed to the heavens.

The theme of the Mass was about renewal. But most Haitians are fed up with the lack of progress. According to aid groups only 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared in the city. Estimates are that 20 million cubic meters of debris remains in the city, enough to fill dump trucks half way around the world.

The political process is marred in corruption charges and the cholera epidemic continues to take lives.

Sitting on what was left of the steps of the cathedral, Posper Racine said the only good thing about the past year is he is still alive.

“Life is not getting better in Haiti,” he said. “Nothing has changed in the past year, if anything things are getting worse. There is no hope.”

Several blocks away Haitian President René Preval and former U.S. president Bill Clinton attended a ceremony to lay the first stone of an earthquake memorial. The memorial will be built on the site of the destroyed national tax office. Many of the workers were killed.

President Preval laid a wreath at the site honoring all the country’s dead. Then he laid the first stone of the memorial. White balloons were released into the air.

The observation of a national “moment of silence” was part of the day’s observances.

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