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Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti: pain and suffering that defies description

The Toronto Star’s Web site reported about an hour and a half ago that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said that, according to the latest consular information, four Canadians have died in Haiti, 13 Canadians injured and more than 550 Canadians have been located.

Moreover, a total of 1,415 Canadians are missing in the affected area. Should the worst occur and these 1,400 or anything close to that number turn out to have perished in the earthquake or its aftermath, this will have been the greatest loss of Canadian life in a single event in my memory.

The images of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, are heart-rending and take me back to the sort of devastation we last saw from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It also recalls for me images from my youth when I rode beside my grandfather as we drove through hurricane ravaged areas of Jamaica. I once saw the remains of a large two-story house that had toppled and rolled about 100 yards down a hillside—that’s an image indelible imprinted in my memory.

In terms of loss of human life, this Haitian earthquake could be the largest single natural catastrophe to have occurred in the Americas in the several centuries since Europeans settled here. To think that as many as 50,000 people are feared dead in the quake, with thousands more at risk from thirst, hunger and disease is too overwhelming to take in all at once. I can’t begin to comprehend the level of suffering of those trapped in the rubble.

Haiti has a blood-soaked past. Ancestors of mine were victims of some of its bloodiest revolutions and violent insurrections. Lawlessness and corruption are familiar to that impoverished country. Yet one must wonder how much miserable luck any one nation should have to endure. In all the Americas, is there a country less able to cope with such catastrophe? One could not blame the people of Haiti if they believe that God has abandoned them.

Ogden Nash said, “There is not a shred of evidence that life is serious.” Perhaps he was right and this is one big cosmic joke.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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