- Associated Press - Saturday, January 8, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (AP) - The silhouetted bodies moved in waves through the night, climbing out of crumbled homes and across mounds of rubble. Hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the center of the shattered city by the thin light of a waning crescent moon. There was hardly a sound.

It took a few moments to recognize the great white dome bowing forward into the night. Another had fallen onto itself, its peak barely visible over the iron gate. The white walls of the 90-year-old mansion were crushed, the portico collapsed. Haiti’s national palace was destroyed.

It was clear from the first, terrible moments after the quake, when I ran out of my broken house to find the neighborhood behind it gone, that Haiti had suffered a catastrophe unique even in its long history of tragedy.

But it was not until reaching the Champ de Mars plaza at the center of the capital, more than six hours later, that I understood what it meant. Not just homes and churches had succumbed. Haiti’s most important institutions, the symbols and substance of the nation itself, had collapsed atop the shuddering earth.

The people came to the palace in droves seeking strength and support. Some wondered if President Rene Preval might emerge _ or his body. They were looking for a leader, a plan, some secret store of wealth and aid.

But there was no news, no plan, no help that night. The president was not there. Nobody was in charge.

In the year since, crisis has piled upon crisis. More than 230,000 are believed to have died in the quake, and more than a million remain homeless. A cholera epidemic broke out in the fall, and in its midst a dysfunctional election was held, its results still unclear.

There was hope that the quake would bring an opportunity to break the country’s fatal cycle of struggle, catastrophe and indifference. But promises were not kept, and no leader emerged, within Haiti or outside.

What little center there had been simply disappeared, and the void was never filled.


Among those gazing at the collapsed palace that night was Aliodor Pierre, a 28-year-old church guitarist and father of two. Until that moment, he had lived in the slum of Martissant. His friends called him “Ti-Lunet,” little glasses, for the wire-rimmed pair he wore.

He was drinking beer at a corner store when the earth began to move. He tried to walk into the street but the force knocked him down. A roar filled the air, like a thousand trucks crashing through a mountain forest. A friend tried to bolt but Aliodor shouted “No!” and held him back. They lay together on the ground until it stopped.

Aliodor picked up his head. His apartment, a five-story building, was flat. Everything he owned was buried inside. He didn’t know where his wife and children were.

Then the screaming began all around him.

Aliodor ran to his parent’s house a few blocks away. It had fallen. He shouted and an answer came from inside. He smashed a window and pulled out his mother, hurt but alive. Neighbors rushed to help rescue other relatives. Still his wife and children were missing.

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