LEOGANE – Marie Saintus sat regally on a wicker chair on the narrow alleys in her makeshift home at the Anacaona Stadium in the middle of this once bucolic city as she teased her neighbors.
“Oh don’t take picture of food,” Saintus said jokingly. “We don’t want people to know that we have food. Here take a picture of that little girl. She looks like she needs help.”
But life has not been amusing for Saintus and the roughly 130,000 people who live here, about 20 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince and the epicenter of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
For the last month or so, residents here have been busy finding relatives, burying the dead and settling in new lifestyle. People here are proud that while the earthquake destroyed about 80 percent of the buildings, the loss of life was relatively small.
“We’re not like Port-au-Prince,” said Jean Montigene, a school teacher at the Lycee of Leogane that was flattened during the earthquake. “We don’t live on top of each other so we were able to escape to safety.
While the central government in Port-au-Prince was reported about 20,000 to 30,000 deaths, people in Leogane put that number closer to 5,000 when all is said and done.
Still, the massive loss of lives and buildings in Haiti could have been prevented if earthquake-resistant designs and materials had been used, said a US study released Tuesday.
An on-ground inspection of the affected region showed that the earthquake was not triggered by a surface fault, meaning it was deeper tremors that caused buildings to crash and resulted in the deaths.
The five-member team of civil and environmental engineers from the University of Washington also found that many of the buildings that survived the earthquake, but were damaged, will have to be brought down.
‘A lot of the damaged structures will have to be destroyed,’ said professor Marc Eberhard, who led the team. ‘It’s not just 100 buildings or 1,000 buildings. It’s a huge number of buildings, which I can’t even estimate.’
The team said its study of the destroyed Port-au-Prince region showed no surface evidence of the fault that might have caused the earthquake on January 12.
The Haitian capital suffered widespread destruction when the magnitude-7 earthquake hit.
‘A main conclusion is that much of the loss of human life could have been prevented by using earthquake-resistant designs and construction, as well as improved quality control in concrete and masonry work,’ the team said.
The team has installed a temporary system of instruments to measure aftershocks and help pinpoint the epicenter, in order to continue monitoring the situation.
But Eberhard said there was a strong need for several permanent monitoring stations close to the earthquake’s epicenter, in order to understand better what caused the earthquake and to forecast future quakes in the area.
The study, which was sponsored by the US Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and US Geological Survey, recommended that simple and cost-effective earthquake engineering be emphasized as the international effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince gets underway. The international community has made a 10-year commitment to the rebuilding process, which could cost 8 to 13 billion dollars.
Eberhard and his team studied the impact of the earthquake in some of the worst-hit areas, including the port of Port-au-Prince, national cathedral, National Palace, Hotel Montana and Union School attended by non-Haitian children. Other places studied by the team included hospitals, schools, bridges and key facilities in the capital.
The team studied 107 major buildings in the centre of the city, which were heavily damaged by the quake, and determined that 28 per cent had collapsed and one-third required extensive repairs.
Before the earthquake Saintus was a civil servant working at City Hall. Her pay was uncertain, going couple of months without receiving her paycheck. “Now I spend my time here wondering what to do and finding a way to feed my children,” said the mother for four. “Right now is not the best time to be looking for work because of all the destruction.”
Meanwhile Saintus and the many people in Leogane and in Haiti relies on money sent from relatives in the United States and Canada.
“Without our relatives we would have died. The government can’t help us. So our family overseas do.”
Haiti has long been known as a Republic of NGOs, a nation of nearly 10 million people loosely held together by a smattering of more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations. Some argue this formula has done little to develop and inspire the people of Haiti.
“My dream is to see the country redevelops as soon as possible. But like everyone else we’re sitting and watching.”