PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The air was choked with memory Wednesday in this city where everyone lost a brother, a child, a cousin or a friend. One year after the earthquake, Haitians marched down empty, rubble-lined streets singing hymns and climbed broken buildings to hang wreaths of flowers.
The landscape is much as the quake left it, thanks to a reconstruction effort that has yet to begin addressing the intense need. But the voices were filled with hope for having survived a year that seemed to get worse at every turn.
“We’ve had an earthquake, hurricane, cholera, but we are still here, and we are still together,” said Charlemagne Sintia, 19, who joined other mourners at a soccer stadium that served as an open-air morgue after the quake and later housed a tent camp.
Thousands gathered around the city to be with loved ones and pray. They flocked to the ruins of the once-towering national cathedral, to the soccer stadium, to parks, hillsides and the neighborhood centers.
Businesses were closed. Instead of traffic, streets were filled with people dressed in white, the color of prayer and mourning. They waved their hands, cheered and called out to God as they wound down roads beset by ruins. Astride the unrepaired buildings are camps where an estimated 1 million people still live, unable to afford new homes.
“God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day. Our house collapsed but we have health and life,” said Terez Benitot, a 56-year-old woman whose husband, a mason, cannot find work amid a reconstruction all are waiting to begin.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake ripped the ground open at 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, 2010. The government raised its death toll estimate Wednesday to more than 316,000, but it did not explain how it arrived at that number.
A year after the quake, workers are still finding bodies in the rubble. About a million people remain homeless. Neighborhood-sized camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital.
It took until Wednesday for Haiti’s government to lay the cornerstone for a new National Tax Office. The earthquake shattered the old building, where many workers were killed in one of the blows to the public sector.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony.