Horror in Haiti

With chaos and horror on the order of a battlefield — some here say possibly worse — Jenneril Duliepre and other family members stand outside a tent on the plaza lawn near the ruined cathedral in Port-au-Prince. He is trying to get further medical attention for his sister, Mireille. 

Mireille is conscious, but she appears extremely weak. It is unclear to her family what to do now. For four days the accounting student at the University of Port-au-Prince was trapped underneath rubble when the classrooms collapsed around her, causing deep abrasions and wounds especially on her now-discolored arm. 

All around here is filth and wailing and confusion: Family members arrive with near-lifeless bodies or amputees being carted in wheelbarrows or in the back of pickup trucks; others lay on the concrete road or in the grass amid roaming chickens, garbage and flies. 

Nearby volunteer nurses and doctors from Latin America attend the most critically wounded with front-line care, disinfecting wounds and changing bandages. They face a steady stream of life-threatening injuries with resources marginally fit for even light medical care. 

Jenneril waves away the flies and wonders how he can get his sister into some place better. He asks a reporter if he will deliver a message or make a cell phone call to an aunt in Orlando, Fla., who wants to know what is going on with her niece. But there are no answers, no officials, no easy solutions. 

On the first Sunday after the earthquake, the scope and devastation of the catastrophe was just coming into focus: Hundreds of thousands in the Haitian capital are facing a primitive and dangerous living situation now with reduced housing and unreliable access to food and water, a paralyzed economy, lost loved ones and the severely wounded. 

Aid workers say privately that this tragedy has likely set the city back as many as five to 10 years for reconstruction, but they are hopeful that rebuilding brings opportunity for improved ways of living. 

Oscar Oliva, a seasoned search and rescue director, came here with a team from Cancun, Mexico; it is largely the same team he led to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.  

As if the Haitians aren’t suffering enough already, there is a very great danger of spawning malaria and dengue fevers “because of the mosquitoes which are picking on those bodies and moving around,” Oliva told Our Sunday Visitor. 

“I was thinking the tsunami was the biggest disaster in the history of humanity, but here is very bad and maybe worse than the tsunami,” Oliva said. 

Tom Tracy, based in South Florida, is on assignment in Haiti.

Photos by Tom Tracey

Haiti wounded
Mireille Duliepre rests in a tent and receives antibiotics following four days trapped in debris when the earthquake cause a university classroom building to collapse around her. She needs more care but is unable to obtain it.
Haiti wounded
HEALING THE WOUNDS: A Haitian boy is treated for a wound on his head after Mexican search and rescue and medical volunteers stumbled upon a horrific scene Jan. 17 in a park near the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, now an open air, rudimentary emergency medical response facility. It was set up in cooperation with volunteer doctors and nurses from elsewhere in Latin America.
Haiti wounded
LOST LIMB: A man with a severed arm is given fresh dressing and antibiotics Jan. 17 at a makeshift hospital near the now-destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Many arriving at the open-air, rudimentary medical response facility had lost limbs or suffered from deep, open wounds. Only two of the city’s five hospitals had functioning surgery units, and they were overwhelmed with patients.
Haiti wounded
OVERWHELMING BURDENS: Haitians carry a man who appears to have almost lost consciousness to the emergency medical care scene outside the collapsed Notre Dame Cathedral on Jan. 17. As many as 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake, and many were being buried in mass graves.
Haiti wounded
SHELTER FROM THE HEAT: Three young people, two with broken or fractured limbs, seek shelter from the hot sun at the emergency medical care scene outside the collapsed Notre Dame Cathedral on the first Sunday after the Haitian catastrophe. About half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 18.
Haiti wounded
INCONSOLABLE: Two women huddle for comfort in the nightmarish emergency medical care scene outside the collapsed Notre Dame Cathedral on the first Sunday following the Haitian catastrophe. The United Nations said about a million Haitians were made homeless by the earthquake.
Haiti wounded
FIELD HOSPITAL: The scene at a field hospital near the United Nations Haiti compound at the Port-au-Prince airport. It was set up with help from the University of Miami Medical School. The United Nations, which has some 12,000 personnel in Haiti as part of its stabilization mission, confirmed the deaths of more than 40 staff, including the chief of the mission and his deputy.
Haiti wounded
SUSTAINING FAITH: Father Jean Julien Cadouceur gives communion to a volunteer from a Mexican fire and rescue team, at an evening Mass Jan. 16 in the courtyard of the Church’s Caritas Haiti office. The priest works for the Haitian bishops’ commission for Catholic education and said the education system in the country had collapsed. About half the nation’s 15,000 primary schools and 1,500 secondary schools were destroyed or severely damaged in the quake, as were the three main universities in the capital.

Faith Works (sidebar)

Evangelization in Haiti started with the island’s discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Capuchins and Jesuits did most of the missionary work in the 18th century.  

In the second half of the 20th century, the Church worked to develop the country. In the 1980s and 1990s, priests and religious were often the targets of political violence. The Church was sometimes seen as the lone voice for the people. 

A Salesian priest, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, known for fiery anti-government sermons, was elected president in 1990. A 1991 military coup forced him into exile for three years and resulted in an international trade embargo against Haiti. He was laicized by the Vatican and married in 1996.  

From the late 1990s through today, the Church has continued its social services, including orphanages, schools and medical clinics. 

— 2010 Catholic Almanac

Help for Haiti

Catholic Relief Services

P.O. Box 17090,

Baltimore, MD 21203-7090.

(800) 736-3467


Catholic Medical Mission Board

10 W. 17th St.,

New York, NY 10011


(800) 678-5659

Food for the Poor

6401 Lyons Road

Coconut Creek, Florida 33073


(954) 427-2222

Jesuit Refugee Service

Haiti Earthquake Relief

1016 16th St NW Suite 500

Washington, DC, 20036


(202) 629-5943

Pontifical Mission Societies

Haitian Solidarity Fund

70 W. 36th St.

New York, NY 10018.


(800) 431-2222

Salesian Disaster Relief

Salesian Missions

P.O. Box 30 New Rochelle, NY 10802-0030


(888) 608-2327 

Priests, Religious Lost in Quake (sidebar)

The Haitian earthquake claimed the lives of many serving the Church, most notably Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince.

Several religious orders have also reported casualties. The Inter-Institute Center for Religious Formation, known by its French initials CIFOR, was one of the many buildings in Port-au-Prince that collapsed after the earthquake Jan. 12. Seminarians and novices from several religious orders were in the building at the time.

The Spiritan Fathers and Brothers, who run the center, said Jan. 15 that they did not know exactly how many students were inside when the quake hit or how many students had died, but the Oblates of Mary Immaculate informed them that one Spiritan student was dead. One Oblate also was killed.

Montfort Missionaries reported that eight of their students died at CIFOR and that Montfort Father Jean Baptiste Henri, the novice master, died when part of the Montfort guest house crumbled.

The Salesians also reported Jan. 15 that they had lost two of their young members in formation when the St. Francis de Sales Institute in Port-au-Prince was destroyed.


Catholic profile (Haiti)

10 Dioceses

338 Parishes

80% of population is Catholic or 7,039,000 people