More than 12 hours after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake upended much of Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince, an impromptu rescue team of Haitians and other residents shared a hard-won moment of happiness: They plucked 10 little girls out of the twisted ruins of a collapsed school. Ben Hopp, a missionary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who assisted in the rescues, reported that the girls sustained non-life-threatening injuries: "God was very gracious."
But the happy scene was also a house of mourning for the men using power tools and generators to slash through the rubble. "Sadly we did also remove about 12-14 bodies from the wrecked school," said Hopp. "It seems there is always joy alongside weeping here in Haiti."
Weeping is set to last for a long night in the ravaged country. Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour, Haiti's First Lady, offered an early and stunning five-word assessment of the devastation inflicted by the massive quake that rocked the Haitian capital on Jan. 12: "Most of Port-au-Prince is destroyed."
The scope of the destruction would take weeks to assess, but at least one thing was immediately clear: The beleaguered nation still reeling from devastating floods in 2008-and grinding poverty that makes it the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere-is suffering a dramatic blow horrifying to even its most disaster-worn citizens.
Those citizens began grim work right away: They pulled survivors from crumpled buildings and stacked corpses in the streets. They wrapped wounds and desperately searched for medical help, even as a hospital collapsed and trapped patients cried for help. Dazed citizens wandered the streets, looking for shelter in the shadow of the collapsed presidential palace. Others carried the dead to nearby hills for shallow burials that health workers fear could add a new health crisis to an already-horrendous situation.
Local doctors warned that food and clean water would soon run out, even as aid groups rushed to coordinate complicated relief efforts mired by massively damaged infrastructure and lack of basic supplies. World Vision-with 370 staffers in the country-was ready to distribute soap, blankets, and bottles of water in the immediate aftermath. The group said other supplies were available at relief stations in the region, but damaged roads and infrastructure meant slow distribution.
Samaritan's Purse planned waves of relief teams to deliver shelter material, medical help, clean water, and hygiene supplies. The ministry's local partner, Baptist Haiti Mission, reported that people were "lining the floors" of the group's 100-bed hospital. Operations director Kyrk Baker, who has lived in Haiti for 11 years, described the scene: "It's overwhelming."
Local missionaries and pastors accustomed to disaster in Haiti were also overwhelmed. Less than three hours after the quake, Charles Amicy, a Haitian pastor and head of Presbyterian Mission in Haiti (PMH), emailed me to describe driving through Port-au-Prince with his 11-year-old son when the quake hit: "For me to witness walls, buildings collapsed and people caring [for] injured and the streets full with people crying, going here and there looking for their love ones they didn't see," he wrote. "I am still [in] shock from what happened."
Despite the shock, Amicy expressed gratitude that he was hosting a medical missions team from Savannah, Ga., when the quake hit: "It is a blessing for them to be in Haiti." The volunteers set broken bones and dressed wounds, but as the medical team made plans to evacuate a seriously injured Haitian to the United States, waves of wounded and sick quake victims stumbled onto the PMH compound, and staffers worried about running out of supplies and basic necessities.
Randy and Karen Lodder, Canadian missionaries with Coram Deo International Aid in Port-au-Prince, had a different worry: Their Adoration Christian School for impoverished Haitian children collapsed before their eyes. Thankfully, no one was inside, but they anxiously waited to hear from students and teachers. Karen Lodder reported: "The school has collapsed, we have heard from many of our friends but not all. We have heard from all but one of our staff members, we haven't heard from any of the teachers or students. We're trying to buy some food and water supplies and then we'll decide what to do next. Please pray, many buildings collapsed, many people are dead, we don't even know where to start."
As President Barack Obama pledged an immediate $100 million in U.S. aid to Haiti, the question of where to start loomed large. If delivering essentials to desperate Haitians proved excruciatingly slow, what would rebuilding look like?
In a Haitian community in Brooklyn, N.Y., some Haitian-Americans contemplated the future while wondering about the present fate of those in Port-au-Prince. Gerard Previl, a Haitian-American who has lived in the United States since 1965 and no longer has family in Haiti, perhaps inadvertently echoed a famous response of Martin Luther when he said Haiti no longer can wait to decide what to do for long-term survival in a land of entrenched poverty and deforestation that has long had massive instability: "Time to teach people to plant the tree. . . . You have to put iron in the house to hold the house. The tree holds the land."
-with reporting by Alisa Harris in Brooklyn, N.Y.
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010