The normally traffic-clogged streets of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince turned quiet Wednesday as businesses closed and people walked in solemn processions to prayer services marking the anniversary of the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The normally traffic-clogged streets of the Haitian capital turned quiet Wednesday as businesses closed and people walked in solemn processions to prayer services marking the anniversary of the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.
Many people wore white, a color associated with mourning in Haiti, and sang hymns as they navigated collapsed buildings and rubble from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that left much of Port-au-Prince in ruins. The government increased the estimated death toll to more than 316,000 people.
Evens Lormil joined mourners in a crowd at the Roman Catholic cathedral, its towering spires and vaulted roof now collapsed, waiting for a memorial Mass next to what was once a prominent landmark in a ragged downtown.
The 35-year-old driver of the collective taxis known as tap-taps said his wife and two children were in the countryside north of the capital, still too traumatized by the quake to attend the service, or even live in the city.
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“I’m here to mourn all the victims,” he said before the Mass, which was held in a tent next to the ruined cathedral. “Even though life was bad before the earthquake, it got worse. I am hoping the country can move together and come forward.”
Terez Benitot, who sat barefoot outside the Mass because there was no more room inside, said she lost a cousin in the earthquake, her house collapsed and her husband, a mason, has less work than before the quake.
“God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day,” the 56-year-old woman said. “Our house collapsed, but we have health and life.”
Crisscrossing the central Champ de Mars Plaza were prayer groups that thanked God for sparing them from the earthquake, and others who took advantage of the day to promote women’s rights, oppose the U.N. force that provides security in Haiti, and other causes.
“It is a grand day for us that we are able to give thanks to God that we are still here,” one of the marchers, Acsonne Frederique, 54, said as a preacher exhorted him and others in the cheering crowd to pray. “Others are here to repair our country. We are here to repair our souls.”
President Réne Préval and former U.S. President Clinton attended a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a new National Tax Office, where many workers were killed.
Dignitaries from around the world are in Haiti to mark the anniversary. But they are also facing skepticism from a Haitian public that expected more progress toward reconstruction.
Aid groups say only about 5 percent of the rubble from the quake has been removed and the capital is strewn with 20 million cubic yards of collapsed concrete and twisted steel debris, enough to fill dump trucks that would encircle half the globe.
At least 1 million displaced people, including 380,000 children, are still in 1,200 tent-and-shack encampments that sprung up after the quake.
Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean said many people are still hopeful but that there are limits to their patience.
“You see them here, you see their energy, and they are smiling. They have hope, which is faith, but they can only have hope and faith for so long,” Jean said.