Final Post

Well folks, the trip is finally coming to a close. We (Andy, Estelle, and Sarah) are in Santo Domingo, Eric is still in Port-au-Prince, and Glen took off early on the 11th flying out of Jacmel.

Overall the trip was a great success.  We collected quality GPS observations at 30 sites across the country that will be used to develop better models of the increased seismic hazards resulting from the January 12th earthquake. These models can then be used by the Haitians to guide their efforts in creating and implementing proper building  codes.

It’s been an amazing trip to say the least with ups and downs, beauties and tragedies, and technical glitches and solutions. We were stretched as scientists to reach out in a country that truly needs education about earthquakes and what to do when earthquakes strike. All teams did an excellent job communicating with broad audiences via radio, television, public talks, and private meetings with officials.

We would like to thank our many colleagues from the Bureau of Mines and Energy, the numerous individuals we met on the road (Gregory Chevry, Samy Sterlin, Tenior, Jillian, Samuel Nap, ….), the high school adminstrators who let us interrupt their daily programs, the college students in Mirebalais who shared their experiences with us, the radio DJ’s and station administrators, the local government officials, ministers, and the missionaries.

As we leave Haiti, our rich experiences have left us with some indelible impressions. Despite much progress across the countryside by local governments and NGOs, infrastructure development is still in need. After the January 12 earthquake a vast school system has been crushed, and many of the educators and future leaders of this country are gone. But Haiti is very rich in one remarkable source: its people. Despite the hardships of Haitian life, despite the heartache and loss from the earthquake, the spirit, the compassion, and the optimism of the Haitian people lives on. If the world can help not only rebuild the structures that have been destroyed, but help develop the nation as a whole (water, roads, education, farming), the Haitian people have the capacity and will to prosper.

We have met people who could take the mantle of leadership today. We’d like to make special comment about people like Gregory Chevry. Greg Chevry is a business and community leader in Mirebalais who is working to distribute water throughout the north, pushing through plans for a new technical university to help replace what was lost in PaP, and sheltering homeless students. Greg was drafted by his community to run for the Haitian senate (figure below), until the national government quashed the election. He is intelligent, compassionant, and honest, and must be one on many who can help lead Haiti out of this crises if given the resources.

Fusion + Grace = Greg Chevry Senate

We have also seen Haiti’s future in the faces of its children, who are friendly, smart, inquisitive, playful, and optimistic.  Below are a just few of the many, many smiling faces we have seen.

We wish to close by expressing our deepest sympathies to the Haitian people as they rebuild from this great tragedy.

Haitian flag a half-mast.

Andy, Estelle, and Sarah

From Jacmel to Port au Prince

Finally some news from the South! We arrived in Jacmel on the 8th. Every hotel was filled by NGO people and Doctors. We set up a temporary camp of the ground of a lovely hotel in the heights of Marigot. But of course, no shower and no internet. But the people were really nice and always tried to help us. Glen found a way out of the country on the 11th once our 3 stations, JACM, MARI and TROU were running.

Estelle and Frantz checking the receiver on the roof of Jacmel's police station. Note in the backgound the tilted house!

Glen, Hebert and Frantz setting up MARI in Marigot.

One month after the earthquake, Haiti is in national holidays so people can pray for the victims of the earthquake. Starting from Friday and until Monday everything was closed in Jacmel. We saw lots of parties on the beach and lots of celebrations in Marigot and Jacmel. The only problem for us was that we were running out of gas on Friday morning. We were supposed to pick up TROU, in Fond Trouin, in the middle of the mountains, and JACM, on the roof of Jacmel’s police station on Friday’s afternoon. Because of the gas problem we were only able to go to JACM in the middle of the afternoon. It was actually the best time to climb on the roof of the 2 and half story building of the police station because the police officers don’t want to go back inside and don’t allow people inside at night. The building wasn’t actually badly damaged, only superficial cracks. Then the rest of my day of Friday was spend with 2 teachers of Jacmel who are organizing school-camps on the beach. It was a great opportunity to explain what we are doing here, what is an earthquake and what are the first things to do when the ground is shaking. Then I went back to my camp on the ground of the “colline enchantee” where I was invited  for dinner by the owner of the place, one of them being a teacher of the school-camps. They offered us some of their own gas and contacted people of the city to help us to find enough gas to make our way to Port au Prince. It was so nice to see how everybody in Jacmel and Marigot tried to help us as best as they can. So finally, early this morning we filled our tank and picked up our 2 stations and drove back to the Bureau of Mines in Port au Prince. The road in the mountains North of Jacmel is still really unstable because of many landslides that followed the earthquake but the Canadian militaries are doing a good job on stabilizing the roads.

Rocks falling on the road between Jacmel and Fond Trouin

I arrived in Port au Prince in the beginning of the afternoon and met with Eric, Sarah and Andy few hours later. We downloaded all our data and made a series of backup. As a conclusion of the GPS campaign in the South I would like to thank a number of people who made our work possible. Since most of them didn’t speak English I’d like to do it in French.

Tout d’abord merci a Frantz et Hebert, notre technicien et notre chauffeur du bureau de Mines pour le dur travail qu’ils ont fourni pendant ces 3 dernières semaines. Merci à tout les responsables de sites GPS pour leur accueil a n’importe quelle heure du jour et de la nuit, cette campagne n’aurait pas pu se faire sans leur bonne volonté! Un grand Merci a Christian, Catherine et Jean Pierre, de l’Hôtel du village de Port Salut, pour leur accueil chaleureux et pour nous avoir fait découvrir un Haïti paradisiaque. Merci également aux Maires de Port Salut, Cayes et Arniquer pour nous avoir permis de réaliser une interview en leur compagnie pour expliquer notre travail et familiariser la population avec les risques sismiques en Haïti. Merci également a Madame Mannie, Michèle et Michel de la Colline enchantée pour nous avoir permis de trouver un endroit ou dormir a Jacmel et pour nous avoir aider a trouver de l’essence quand la situation devenais critique. Un merci personnel pour les docteurs volontaires de l’Eglise Luthérienne de Jacmel pour les soins et l’attention qu’ils mont gentiment apporte quand je n’allais pas très fort. Merci aux militaires Canadiens de Jacmel pour leur aide dans notre recherche d’un moyen de rejoindre le DR. Et enfin merci a tous les Haïtiens qui ont participe de près ou de loin au succès de notre travail ici!


Day 17. Wonderful Mirebalais

Having set up GPS in Saint Raphael and Hinche, we have finally made it to Mirebalais, the last location where our team needs to make measurements north of PaP. Of course we still have to retreat back north to pick up the instruments we have left behind, but the finish line is in sight. We arrived in Mireabalais last night and are spending a day here allowing the data to accumulate. Mireabalais is a town of 12,000 with another 50,000 in the surrounding rural areas. In many ways it is a microcosm of the Haiti we have grown to know in our 2 weeks in the north. As we approach the town, small stone houses begin to appear along the rocky, dirt roads and people, lots of people are walking in the streets, riding motorcycle taxis, and just hanging out. It is dusty, lots of garbage, and the river we cross is polluted. Life here in this town is tough and I am not overjoyed to be arriving. But then we approach the town square and enter a different universe. There are thousands of people, and they are singing, and they are rejoicing. People are smiling, vendors are selling all kinds of food, and its just one big party. As we pull up to the curve, a little girl, the daughter of a vendor selling sausages, gives us that shy but inquisitive look with just a hint of a smile, which beams oh so much brighter when Sarah offers her a lollipop. This is a community; a close knit group of neighbors that seem oblivious to the hardships that is their daily ritual. We are told that they have been celebrating life every night for 15 straight nights. I continue to be amazed, but the simple fact is that Haitians embrace life and look forward to the future despite what my culture might view as difficult circumstances and dim prospects. The spirit of the Haitian people is amazing and I am humbled.

After breakfast the next day, we get a flat tire repaired (another casualty of the tough roads) and head out to the local high school, unannounced, to see if we can talk to the students about earthquakes. Despite the fact that they are taking exams, the principal is keen for us to talk with them. As a teacher, I am not thrilled with interrupting an exam and suggest that they should each be given a few extra points, to which we hear many “Oui! Oui!” It is again great to talk with the students and hear their concerns and answer their questions. Mirebalais is far enough from PaP that they suffered no damage, but they did feel the earthquake roll by. Many questions focused, as usual, on whether it is safe to be outside in a quake (yes, very), and what to do if inside (get out), and what to do if they can’t get out (get near a strong support structure or under a strong desk).

Teaching about earthquakes to students at Mirebalais' high school.

Later in the day we meet Sammy, a very personable Haitian living in Boston but back here visiting, and his uncle Greg (also very personable), who is a former military officer who spent time training in Georgia, who now owns several local businesses, and who cares deeply for his community and his country. Greg is currently housing more than a dozen of more than 100 PaP college students who are now refugees in this town, as their school and their homes were destroyed in the earthquake. He introduces us to the students and as a group we talk about their experience in PaP, earthquakes, and the future. Their stories are tragic, they have lost many friends, teachers, and family members, and they are concerned with how they will be able to continue their education. Greg and several other people with means are in the planning stages of a new technical college they will try and build here, as a new home to these and other displaced students. I have promised to bring word of their situation to my colleagues and institution to see how may be able to help and Sarah introduced them to the organization Teachers Without Borders (see blog below), as it is likely they will take a great interest. We learn so much from these students about what happened on Jan 12, with one disturbing piece of information that particularly stands out. It turns out that culturally, Haitians have been taught to seek shelter indoors in case of any type of emergency. And many, many of their friends and family members who were outside when the earthquake struck, ran indoors and were then killed when the buildings collapsed. We are stunned. It’s a tragedy within a tragedy.

Talking with college students from PaP that are now refugees in Mireabalias.

Our proactive effort to educate the Haitian population has taken on even more urgency with this new information. And as has happened several times in the past 2 weeks, we are quickly given another great opportunity to educate. We are again invited to go live on the radio the next morning, and this time they are taping the show and planning on distributing it throughout Haiti. With Sammy interpreting for us this time, and the local DJ Tenior (a very bright fellow who had read our 2008 paper and had been warning his listeners about the dangers of an earthquake – WOW!; apparently they all thought he was crazy) asking a series of questions, we spent about 45 minutes talking about earthquakes, what happened on Jan 12, what we know and don’t know about future seismic activity in Haiti, tsunamis dangers in the north and what to do to survive one, and most of all: if you feel shaking and if at all possible, get out of any building and stay out.

Live on the radio in Mirebalais. Tenior (standing) conducted the interview, while Sammy (sitting) translated between English and Creole.

Before leaving town after the radio interview, I stand in the back of our pickup truck to watch thousands from this town gather again, this time in the morning. It is February 12, exactly one month after the earthquake, and it is the first of 3 days of national mourning. The people are praying and they are singing, they are a thriving community. As I turn to leave, a little boy, perhaps 8, says to me “Mister, good morning, how are you?” with a big smile only matched by his fathers. “I am fine, how are you?” “My name is Tony.” “My name is Andy and it is very nice to meet you.” He finishes with “Have a nice day”, which I think perhaps exhausts his English, but not his friendliness.

The town of Mirebalais gathers on February 12, one month after the earthquake, for the first of 3 days of national mourning (click to enlarge).


Day 16. A great teaching opportunity

Today we picked up our instruments in Cap-Haitian, Fort Liberte, and Milot, checked that our GPS in Saint Raphael was recording data, then set up GPS receivers in Hinche and Mirebalais – it was a very long day, but very rewarding. In Milot, the school next to the field hospital was back in session. With the permission of the principal, we took the opportunity to talk with several classes of high school students about the causes of earthquakes, what happened on Jan 12 in PaP, and what the students should do in the case of an earthquake. Macly translated for us. The school teacher drew a map of Haiti on the blackboard and showed them where the active faults are located. We talked about building codes, and the importance of building sound structures, which are greatly lacking in Haiti. One can hope that some of these students will some day be in positions of leadership and will be able to improve the manner in which houses are built here. The students were very attentive and asked us many very good questions: Can we predict when the next earthquake will occur? (No, no one can know when the next earthquake will occur). Why do buildings fall down but not trees? (Trees are flexible and have a good root system). Can the ground open up and swallow us? (No). Did the US military cause the earthquake? (No). The students were particularly interested in what to do when the earthquake occurs (get outside if possible or get under a strong desk or door frame if they can’t get outside), and pursued this to the point of asking happens if the ceiling does fall on them, to which there is no good answer. It is a difficult balance to educate about such real hazards without causing alarm. After we expressed our sympathies for the tragedy of Jan 12, they were incredibly gracious to us for coming to speak to them. As we departed one of the students told us that Jesus knows everything, and if we talked to Jesus he will tell us when the next earthquake will occur, and then we can tell them. Andy stated that Jesus does not talk to him, to which they laughed and said that he should try. To which Andy said he would try for them, which seem to please them very much.

Teaching about earthquakes and our field work.

Attentive and inquisitive students.

Andy and Sarah

Day 15. The Citadel

Haitians are very proud of their history, especially their war of independence from France. With all four of our instruments in the field recording data, today we visited the Citadel and San Souci Palace.  The Citadel is a mountain top (3000 ft high) fortress atop very steep slopes, built from 1805-1820 to repel any forthcoming French invasion after achieving independence. The French never came back, maybe because of the more than 300 cannons, many of which were taken from Napoleon’s ship after he was defeated in Cap-Haitian. Our guides claimed that the bigger cannon could reach Cap-Haitien, but that is 17 miles away… Our guide also told us that it took 200,000 workers to ‘almost’ complete the building, and that 20,000 people perished during construction (that’s about 10 a day!) due to the treacherous working conditions. The Citadel was built by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century. Our guides also told us that work stopped when Christophe died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while lying infirmed in his San Souci palace, which he also built down slope from the Citadel.  At the time of his death, Christophe ruled northern Haiti while Alexandre Pétion ruled in the south. Our Haitian guides said with pride that Christophe took his own life to unite the country under one leader. The San Souci palace was mostly destroyed in 1842 by a large earthquake on the Septentrional fault (northern Haiti). The fortress, however, was not severely damaged.

The citadel and a new hat.

The citadel: View from above. Those are cannons captured from Napoleon.

Central courtyard of the Citadel.

Doors at the Citadel.

Those cannon balls are actually pretty heavy!

The ruins of San Souci Palace - destroyed in an earthquake in 1842.

These historical sites are as grand as any we’ve seen in Europe – with one added advantage: we were the only visitors! While it is nice to basically have a fortress and palace to yourself, being the only game town led to us picking up an entourage of more than a dozen locals who saw us as a business opportunity. Our hosts were sure that we could not make the climb without riding horses. After we politely declined, the horses were led up the mountain anyway, as it was obvious to all that we would tire along the way – about a 45 minute hike to the top. The horses returned unridden. Upon our return we were inundated with locals hawking souvenirs. We bought several, though not nearly enough to satisfy the merchants.

The horses we didn't ride in on.

Upon our return to the town that hosts these historical sites, Macly got into a long conversation with some of the residents. They were interested to know whether we were the people they saw on TV and heard on the radio talking about the earthquake. When this was confirmed, they expressed their sincere appreciation not only for our efforts to help them better understand the earthquake, but also for taking some time out to visit their historical sites, which they are very proud of. These kinds of encounters help us appreciate that even if our scientific investigations do little to change the realities of life in this earthquake prone country, our mere presence and efforts are meaningful to the Haitians.

Andy and Sarah

Teachers Without Borders

Teachers Without Borders advances human welfare through teacher professional development on a global scale.”

Teachers Without Borders has a page devoted to helping Haiti.

Day 14. Rivers, Saint Raphael, and camera hunting.

It rained all last night and into the day today on the north coast of Haiti (fortunately the rain seems confined to the north coast as many people in PaP are sleeping without shelter). The people here seem to like the rain as it brings relief from the heat, growth to their crops, and swells the rivers. The rivers here appear to be one of the main centers of Haitian society, possibly only second to the church. Most Haitian homes do not have running water, so the people flock to the rivers. Everywhere we go, no matter how remote, it is an absolute guarantee that if you see a river you will see people in it doing everything that people do with water (see picture below). One can only imagine how unhealthy these waters have become, which is all the more frightening as you can always tell you are approaching a river because you will see people on the sides of the roads carrying jugs to bring water from the river to their homes. I have talked with several people from Habitat with Humanity who are down here with the sole purpose of putting in wells for potable drinking water. I have seen some of these wells, and they are always being used – just great to see.

Typical Haitian river scene where people wash themselves and their cloths (which are drying on the banks) and their vehicles. The also carry this water back to the their houses to drink (click on this figure to see it bigger).

The soaked dirt roads made for an interesting trip to Saint Raphael, which is up and over a mountain pass. But thanks to 4-wheel drive and great driving by Daniel, we arrived here with little trouble. The forests in these mountains may be secondary growth after being clear cut, but they are lush with plantain, orange, grapefruit, mango, and guava trees. Saint Raphael is a beautiful village in the mountains about 50 km south of the north coast, where we set up a GPS receiver on the roof of a priest’s house. The priests appear to be the most respected people in town, and they have always been helpful to our GPS work in Haiti.  It was nice to walk around the bustling market at the town square. As generally the only white people in these remote towns, we would have gotten enough stares (people always seem very curious about us) even without Daniel following us the whole way with the truck – our directions to stay put got lost in translation.

Macly setting up a GPS receiver on the roof of the priest's house across the street from the mission (in background).

View of peoples houses from the roof of the priest's house in Saint Raphael.

Both Sarah’s and my digital cameras succumbed to the rigors of field work over the past couple of days, and we need them to record the set-up at each GPS site (of course taking pictures for the blog is also nice to be able to do).  So we headed back into Cap-Haitien to look for a new one. Though Cap-Haitien is the  second largest city in Haiti, we only found 3 “camera” stores which had a combined total of 5 models– all over-priced (more than in the US). This may partially explain why we do not see Haitians with cameras. We bought the cheapest one.


Day 13: American field hospital in northern Haiti.

Today we picked up our GPS instruments in Gros Morne, Gonaives, and Desdune, and placed them on roofs in Cap-Haitien and Fort Liberte along the northeast coast, and Milot just inland to the south. In Milot our GPS went up on a school that is now being used at least partially as shelter for refugees that have come up from Port-au-Prince, which is some 100 km to the south. Next to the school American doctors and military have set up a field hospital to treat the refugees, including operations. The ladder available for use on the school ground was too damaged even for our low standards, so Andy went over to the hospital and asked to borrow one. They were very pleased to help. It gave us a great sense of pride to see Americans set up this clinic here in northern Haiti, to where many have fled. We also felt heartache at the distress of many of the patients, though it is clear they are being well cared for. Both the refugee camp and the hospital were very orderly. One had the sense that the presence of the field hospital was very much appreciated and that the doctors were very pleased to be able to help.

Although at this location we saw only Americans helping, we’ve seen many other countries’ presence here as well. In Gonaive there are Argentine UN soldiers helping with “habilitation” as one put it. We met Brazilian doctors at our hotel, and we’ve noticed other international visitors too. The need is great here and it appears there is truly an international effort to provide help to the Haitian population.

American field hospital as seen from the roof of the school in the town of Milot, where we installed a GPS site. The school is also serving as a refugee center.

Ground view of the field hospital.

Ground view of field hospital.

View of the inside of one of the field hospital tents.

Sarah and Andy

Have you ever felt like you really changed someone’s life for the better?

He asked with the most humble voice leaning cautiously against the post of a grass-roofed tiki-hut, “May I ask you a question before I go?”

-Of course

“Someone told me once when I was little that it is wrong to stand next to a white person. It has never left my mind. Is that true?”

-No, not at all.

“I see that when I talk to you last night it was okay. So I thought maybe it wasn’t true.”

-It’s not true. The world is changing. Maybe for the older generation they thought that was true, but it is changing with us – the young people. When you have kids I don’t think you’ll tell them that.

“I won’t tell them that.” And he shakes his head no with passion and in deep agreement.

-We are changing things. The world is getting better.

“Now that I talked to you that is out of my mind.” He looks seriously at me with honesty and makes a motion with his hand as if pulling a long-engrained thought out of his mind and tossing it out forever.

—– a conversation between Tony and Sarah in Mole St. Nicolas February 4, 2010

Tony and Sarah

Day 12: Ladders

Today we picked up instruments in Mole St. Nicholas, Jean Rabel, and Port-de-Paix along the north coast and headed south to reoccupy our sites in Gros Morne, Gonaives, and Desdune, where now-resolved software issues prevented the recording of sufficient data last week. We are staying in Gonaives, a bustling, industrial, dusty town on the central west coast. No camping on the beach here. We had a nice chat with a platoon of UN soldiers from Argentina who have been in this town for ~6 months and seem homesick. Our conversation was limited by our inability to speak Spanish and their inability to speak English, but we communicated well enough.

We had a nice chat with some homesick UN soldiers from Argentina

Several people have asked us about why we install our GPS receivers on buildings, which are likely to move with respect to the surface, especially in an earthquake. While this is true, our pressing concern in Haiti is security. In general, we find that buildings are sufficiently sturdy to not add too much noise to our data. And while buildings near the Jan 12 epicenter that survived may have deformed, the amount the crust beneath them moved during the earthquake is usually large enough that the earthquake offset was probably much larger than any building deformation.

Most of the roofs we use were chosen because of safety for the GPS equipment, which is left unoccupied for several days. Putting a GPS station on police station roof generally brings a decent level of security, though in some places we hire security anyway. In this religious country, the roof of a priest’s house or mission is even more secure. But nothing adds to security like a roof that is difficult to access and requires a ladder. It has been amusing to see how fast our Haitian colleague Macly can locate a ladder in a town he has never even visited before. In Gros Morne Macly has found us 4 different ladders in 4 different visits, never taking more than 10 minutes to succeed. When we say that our Haitian GPS campaign cannot be accomplished without great cooperation from both our colleagues and each town’s inhabitant, the importance of securing a ladder is not to be underestimated.  Below is a photo expose of some of the ladders and other obstacles we must conquer to conduct a GPS campaign in Haiti.

Precarious ladder behind the Mission in Jean Rebel (see photo below).

Its not a ladder, but we just like this picture so much of school kids in front of the Mission in Jean Rabel

Using a fallen antenna in Mole St. Nicholas.

A ladder to get from the second floor to the roof at the police station in Port-de-Paix. The prisoners were in the yard below checking us out.

One of our favorites: A homemade ladder in the bed of our pickup. Note how the top of the ladder overlaps the lip of the roof by a couple of inches.

We had to use one ladder 3 times to scale the police station in Gonaives.

A night climb onto a mission in Fort Liberte.

Through to the roof in Saint Raphael.

Flexible ladder to the roof of the high school in Hinche.

We had to slip past barbed wire on the roof of the police station in Desdune.

Andy and Sarah

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