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Our On-the-Ground Response to the Haiti Earthquake

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

The maternity hospital in L'Asile, damaged in Haiti’s M7.2 Nippes earthquake. Photo: Gefthé Dévilmé, GHI

The Haitian nickname for earthquake, goudougoudou, refers to the deafening sound of the earth shaking. It is a reminder that these are sudden, terrifying events. After a powerful M7.2 earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday morning, our thoughts are with people who are grieving for those lost and injured, and who have lost their homes.

The epicenter on the southern peninsula was close to Anse-à-Veau, in Nippes department, where our team member Gefthé Dévilmé lives. We are grateful that he and his family are okay. The shaking was felt by our team members living in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, and our team member in the Dominican Republic.

USGS shaking intensity map of shaking for the M7.2 Nippes earthquake in Haiti, August 14, 2021 (red star is epicenter). Blue dots show our team's presence on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Gefthé reports widespread, heavy damage to houses, schools, churches and hospitals. Hundreds of aftershocks are rattling nerves. Many people are staying outside because they have lost their homes, or out of concern for further building damage. Landslides triggered by the earthquake blocked some roads, hampering access to aid. Then Tropical Depression Grace arrived with intense rain and wind.

We are writing to share with you our immediate, on-the-ground efforts in response to this disaster. As local needs become more clear, we will have a better picture of ways that we can assist in medium and long-term recovery, to build local resilience to future hazard events. For now, our Haiti team prioritized ways that we can help right away in the hard-hit region near the epicenter. This is our focus in the days ahead:

1) Directly support hard-hit communities through the Nippes Department office of the Direction General de la Protection Civile (DGPC). This agency is coordinating response in Nippes, the department that includes Anse-à-Veau. (Haiti has 10 departments, which are similar to states or provinces.) We immediately sent funds to support needs identified by this office, which is greatly under-resourced. Our Haiti team feels that to provide such tangible assistance, and to work alongside and support the local community, is the highest priority. We have worked in this part of Haiti since 2016, with this agency as well as with schools, churches, civic organizations, REGARNIP (an organization serving people with disability) and other leaders to help communities teach the safest actions to take in earthquakes. 2) Collect local data to evaluate the extent of damage, focusing on critical buildings such as schools and hospitals. Thanks to Gefthé’s on-the-ground reconnaissance, we are sharing georeferenced photos and data with technical organizations such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the Structural Extreme Events Reconnaissance Network (StEER) and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), which will be available to humanitarian organizations. StEER is leading an effort to assess and document damage. They adapted existing data collection tools into a custom Creole/English app that enables Gefthé and others who are not engineers to document damage in affected communities; experienced, remote engineers will then assess.

Last year, due to travel restrictions, we used a similar “hybrid” process for a Rapid Diagnostic of School Infrastructure in Haiti. Schools were not in session on Saturday, which spared lives. But children’s loss of schools, and the impacts to their education, is another aspect of this earthquake tragedy. Our team is evaluating how best to assist Haiti’s education sector post-earthquake.

A classroom damaged in L’Asile, Haiti after the M7.2 earthquake last weekend. Photo: Gefthé Dévilmé, GHI

3) Work with community radio stations. We are actively increasing our radio outreach to air safety messaging more frequently and to host call-in shows. Knowing what to do in a crisis, and why, can prevent injuries and save lives in times of disaster. Our team helped the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) craft messages about staying safe in aftershocks. We are sharing these and other messages about protective actions to take during shaking developed previously with U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) support.

Our team members are a trusted resource, having spoken on local radio many times about disaster preparedness. Haiti Country Lead Garmalia Mentor-William, MD, was involved in the medical response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She believes that dialogue on local radio does a great service to help people heal emotionally and learn actions to be safer. This is why she hosts a weekly show in Cap-Haïtien.

Gefthé Dévilmé (right) answering listeners’ questions on community radio, Anse-à-Veau. Photo: GHI

4) Continue to engage youth in the North. Haiti’s South is experiencing the disaster today, but the North will experience an earthquake in the future. Training in disaster resilience lasts a lifetime. Currently, our Timoun an Aksyon (Kids in Action) project is empowering youth to take action on disaster preparedness. Nearly 50% of Haiti’s population is under the age of 20, and they will continue to face the threat of powerful earthquakes.

A Timoun an Aksyon youth group in Cap-Haïtien planning activities to teach peers and their community how to prepare for disasters. Photo: Windy Previl, GHI

5) Inspire people to prepare. Between 2000 and 2019, natural disasters took more lives in Haiti (per million people) than in any other country.* North Haiti was spared by this event but still faces significant risk from a powerful earthquake and tsunami. That’s why we are not only working in Anse-à-Veau but also Port-de-Paix and Cap-Haïtien in the North—working alongside churches, schools and local organizations to reach all sectors. (REGARNIP, for example, helps with messaging in sign language.) We have developed practical guides that families can use to help them better prepare in advance of natural hazard events. This effort has been underway with funding by the USGS and USAID.

A church gathering, prior to the earthquake, with disaster awareness activities. Photo: Gefthé Dévilmé, GHI

One piece of good news: The masons who took part in our 2016 disaster-resistant construction training in Anse-à-Veau—and who together built a house that is undamaged after the M7.2 earthquake—now have a testament to their power to protect lives in their community.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to help communities protect and prepare before the next earthquake. We are actively exploring ways that we can support resilience in the months/years to come, especially with highly vulnerable schools and health facilities.

These efforts will always make a difference, because Haiti’s active faults will continue to generate strong earthquakes.

Warm Regards,

Veronica Cedillos, President & CEO

Janise Rodgers, PhD, Chief Operating Officer

Garmalia Mentor-William, MD, Haiti Country Lead

And the entire team at GeoHazards International

* Source: The Human Cost of Disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019), by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)

GeoHazards International

Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.


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