Haiti earthquake: testimony from the hell of Port-au-Prince

"At the time of the tremor, I was at the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti visiting a friend. In less than a minute, the whole city collapses. I struggle to get out of the building. In the street around me, there is not a single building left standing, only huge clouds of dust.

When the shaking stops, I walk through the adjacent streets. I pass a market where I had gone to do some shopping in the afternoon. Shouts of customers and cashiers are heard from the now collapsed shopping centre. The pregnant woman I had been talking to is now lying under several tons of concrete slabs. A crowd of people stand helplessly by as she slowly dies. The schools in the neighbourhood are also on the ground. Frightened pupils shout for the others who are trapped under the debris of the classrooms.

The longest night in Port-au-Prince's history began. Local rescuers, using whatever resources they could find, pulled out survivors. That night, some 35 aftershocks shook the city. The cries of panic were sometimes followed by hymns in honour of Christ: "Christ save us; what have we done?

The earthquake made any kind of communication impossible. Around 4am, I finally managed to reach my wife, my little brother and the Aide et Action team in Santo Domingo. Then nothing, it would take more than a week before communications were re-established.

On the 13th of January, I still had no news from my Aide et Action colleagues in Haiti. When I left the office in the evening, the accountant, a project manager, a consultant, two people from the presidential commission for education and the two security guards were still there. I decided to go to Aide et Action to see what was going on. On Rue Bourdon, near our premises, it is nothing but dust and apocalypse. Wounded and dead bodies lie everywhere. Dozens of cars, abandoned the day before by drivers surprised by the tremor, are still in the middle of the road, some under concrete slabs. The inhabitants, like me, discover with horror the extent of the damage. The premises are completely cracked and can hardly stand, but there is no one left. While crossing what remains of Port-au-Prince and Delmas during the day, I end up seeing the Aide et Action employees again, all safe and sound. Our reunion will be full of emotions; after such a catastrophe, it is difficult to hold back tears...

14 January 2010, 9 a.m.: I am on the Grand-Rue in Port-au-Prince. Before the earthquake, this old, busy street was filled with two- to five-storey buildings that had been transformed into businesses, hotels and service providers. This mythical street, once teeming with scarlet colours, is now a vast, pale, chaotic open-air cemetery. Dozens of buildings have collapsed on the women and men who did not have time to escape. And under the rubble, under the electricity poles, here and there you can hear the cries of those who were trapped.

No word is precise enough, fair enough to describe what I see. There is no vocabulary to describe the tragedy of a people already severely shaken since the birth of their nation. I gradually realise the physical and psychological damage caused by the earthquake. Alone, in the middle of this human crush, I break down. The dose of horror has reached its peak.

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