A powerful earthquake hit Haiti late Tuesday afternoon, leaving an estimated death toll of 50,000 people and affecting members of the Emory community.
The earthquake, which measured a magnitude of 7.0, is the most powerful to have hit disaster-stricken Haiti in a century and was located 15 miles from capital Port-au-Prince.
No Emory students or faculty members were in Haiti during the earthquake and the Haitian students who are enrolled at Emory are safe in the United States, according to University President James W. Wagner's Universitywide e-mail sent yesterday.
Assistant Professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts Regine Jackson, who has both extended family and immediate relatives in Haiti, said that waiting to hear from family was “excruciating.”
“It has been a horrible 48 hours, but we finally got a text message from my uncle,” she said. “‘We are OK, we had to sleep outside, but we are OK,’ he said. I can’t imagine them sleeping outside but in all of this, you just take what you can get.”
Jackson said that she was primarily concerned about her grandmother, aunt and uncle because of their old age and health. While they survived the earthquake, her uncle’s mother did not make it out of the house in time.
The lack of contact, Jackson said, was trying. Being separated by migration, she explained that the closest connection family members overseas can have is direct communication.
“The past two days were particularly difficult because that contact was cut off and there was a feeling of helplessness, but you have to continue on with life,” said Jackson, who continued to teach her class after the earthquake. “I drank hot coffee this morning knowing that my relatives were in the streets.”
College Junior Sylvie Curci, who worked at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti during winter break, had planned to stay in Haiti until Wednesday but returned shortly before the earthquake happened to practice with the varsity swim and dive team.
HAS is located 40 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and is one of the few hospitals still standing, according to Curci.
The earthquake was “eye-opening,” Curci said.
“It makes me question my own way of life and my priorities in life,” she said.
Curci has spoken to some of her friends and colleagues in Haiti, but many others are still missing or have died.
Jackson said that she is worried about Haiti’s rebuilding because the country, which has faced numerous earthquakes and hurricanes in the past, is the poorest in the Western hemisphere.
“It’s devastating. Anybody who has ever been to Haiti and to the city of Port-au-Prince can see how devastating it really is,” she said. “It will take a long time to return to any sort of normalcy. Even Louisiana isn’t back to pre-Katrina conditions; if it takes a major city in the United States this long to rebuild, you can only imagine how long it will take a country like Haiti to rebuild.”
In his Universitywide e-mail, Wagner urged the Emory community to "reach out and provide support" by sending money online to expert rescue workers, especially because the University has no direct channels to provide help to Haiti.
"In the coming days and weeks our thoughts and prayers will be with ... all persons touched by the devastation," Wagner wrote.
In order to help the relief effort, Volunteer Emory fellow Jocelyn Shieh (’09C) said that students are volunteering with MedShare International this weekend. MedShare International is a nonprofit that distributes medical supplies to hospitals in countries in need.
“Right now, so many students are aware of what happened. It’s all over the news and being in a community, we are in a place to reach out and help,” Shieh said.
She said that Volunteer Emory is currently working on a Universitywide fund-raiser which may begin in the next few weeks.
Volunteering with local organizations is important as well, Jackson said.
“There are a few local organizations where students can just chime in,” Jackson said, listing the Georgia Haitian Alliance, Ebenezer Baptist Church and Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Decatur. “These groups haven’t waited for disaster to hit Haiti to help; they’ve been contributing for a long time.”
Participating in relief efforts not only benefits victims, but is also good for the volunteers, Jackson explained.
“Our own well-being is tied in with these people,” she explained of the need to volunteer.
Shieh said that she believes students value service and helping the less fortunate.
“The natural response is to want to help,” Shieh said. “[Emory students] are in a place to really make a difference and I think they realize that.”
Jackson said that in addition to reaching out to victims abroad, it is also necessary not to forget those closer to home who have also suffered from the tragedy.
“I think it is important to pay attention not only to the victims in Haiti but also the people here who are experiencing loss,” Jackson said. “Think more broadly about the effect of trauma and feel empowered to do something small and know that that’s making a difference.”
— Contact Alice Chen
Asst. News Editor Molly Davis contributed reporting.
Run from Atlanta
Hope for the Children of Haiti
Hope for Haiti
Charities contributing to the Haiti cause
Doctors Without Borders
International Relief Teams
World Hope International
Mennonite Central Committee