NEW YORK – Marcus Garcia was about to record an editorial at his Port-au-Prince radio station on Jan. 12, 2010, when the ground began to shake. It stopped moments later, and, having never experienced an earthquake before, he thought that was it.
“You take a breath, ‘thank God it’s over,’ and then the second movement started,” Garcia told Crux.
“The second movement was different. It was like a spinning top, and it was terrible because it destroyed everything around,” Garcia said. “It seems to you that it lasts a half an hour. You’re very surprised when you learn that it was less than a minute, but it was terrible.”
That was the moment when Jan. 12, 2010, became one of the deadliest days in history. The earthquake killed more than 220,000 people in the Caribbean nation, injured 300,000, displaced another 1.5 million, and left much of the landscape in ruins.
For the day’s twelfth anniversary this past Wednesday Crux spoke with Garcia, a journalist who has run the Mélodie FM radio station from Haiti and Miami for over two decades. He remembers the day vividly, and he recognizes the role it played in the dire state Haiti is in today.
Somehow, the Mélodie FM headquarters were unharmed by the earthquake, which sheltered Garcia and the others at the station from realizing the magnitude of the destruction all around. It wasn’t until they heard a “loud cry” that they rushed outside and saw buildings “crumbling down” and the “whole city covered in dust.”
Garcia then rushed home where he found his house destroyed and his wife underneath the rubble. He brought her to the hospital but it was too late; she had already died.
“It was terrible,” Garcia said.
Garcia remembers he then took his wife’s body to a safe place and returned to the radio station that was “miraculously” unharmed and still on air. They worked all night and for the next two days sharing the information of what happened. Because Mélodie FM was the only radio station in Port-au-Prince that wasn’t destroyed, Garcia believes he may have been the first person to share the news to those who didn’t know what happened.
Garcia said he will never forget the morning after the earthquake, either. They went out into the streets where everything was destroyed and realized the death toll.
“We get down to the streets where everything was destroyed, but now they start taking out the bodies,” Garcia said. “After about 10-15 minutes the bodies were so many that you were surrounded by mountains of bodies all around the streets, all around the squares.”
12 Years Later; Worse Than Before
There’s no telling what the state of Haiti would be today if the 2010 earthquake hadn’t happened, though history suggests it may not be much better. As Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami highlighted to Crux, “Haiti was in a bad way before the earthquake,” and that would likely be the case in 2022 even if it hadn’t happened.
“The earthquake was like a truck hitting somebody who was gravely sick,” Wenski said. “It didn’t kill that person because Haitians are very resilient, but had that truck never hit the person would they still be in a bad way? And that would be yes.”
Garcia, though, holds that the political corruption and dire situation of Haiti in 2022 was exacerbated by what happened after the earthquake in 2010, mainly corruption. By October 2010 $4.5 billion dollars was donated to Haiti for relief and recovery operations, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. Much of that money, however, was never used for its intended purpose.
“That changed everything in politics in Haiti. Now the politicians turn to money because there is money. Every [politician] is about to get their share of those billions,” Garcia said. “And so it seems now the country is poorer than ever before.”
Another lasting impact of the 2010 earthquake came to a head last September, when 30,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, crossed the Rio Grande River and wound up underneath the Del Rio International Bridge hoping for refuge in the states.
Many of the migrants fled Haiti for South America after the earthquake in 2010, and fled South America to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic created economic challenges in South American countries.
Brazil and Chile, in particular Garcia noted, many Haitians fled to post-earthquake because of the opportunities for work. Both, he said, “fraternized” with Haiti and accepted Haitian immigrants.
“A lot of young people went to Brazil at the time bacause they had a lot of jobs getting ready for the [Copa América], and others, especially students, went to Chile,” Garcia said.
The Biden administration responded to the situation underneath the Del Rio bridge by flying thousands of Haitians back to a country that is worse off than when they fled a decade ago. In the past year alone Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, and an August earthquake in Haiti killed more than 2,200 people and injured more than 12,000. Meanwhile, gangs have also taken large portions of the country in the aftermath of the assassination, which Garcia said stems from the political corruption leaving people poor and without any opportunities.
“Because there were U.S. interventions before it seems like anything that happened there would be a U.S. intervention, but after the assassination Biden said no,” Garcia said. “He said you have to do something by yourself, talking to the politicians, but they can’t. They don’t do that. They never try to find a solution by themselves.”
Garcia himself has been in Miami for the past three months for safety purposes, saying the situation now is worse than it was when he was exiled by President Jean-Claude Duvailier in 1980. He returned to Haiti after Duvailier was overthrown in 1986, and founded Mélodie FM in 1998 that broadcasts in both Miami and Haiti.
Now, Garcia said he is soon going to return to Haiti to try and reinvigorate a sense of “community spirit,” between Haitians in Haiti and in Miami over the radio airwaves. He admits that’s not going to solve Haiti’s problems by itself, adding that it’s so bad that “frankly, I don’t see anything we can do for the moment.”
Long term, however, he hopes bridging the gap between those in the states and those back home will make Haitians work together for change.
“The solution is Haitians have to realize that they have to work together. Can Haitians work something besides a dictatorship? That’s what they should realize now,” Garcia said. “What is democracy? Democracy is working together.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg