The 7.0-magnitude earthquake was the most severe to hit Haiti in more than 200 years. Though no students currently enrolled at the University were in Haiti when the earthquake struck, a number of students and employees have family there.
Phoebe Rusch ’11, who is currently taking time off to travel and work in Haiti, arrived in Port-au-Prince on Monday, one day before the earthquake. “It stung my eyes and, breathing in, burned my throat,” Rusch said in a Facebook message. “The ground pitched and tossed like the sea during a Nor’easter. Then, as suddenly as it had come alive, the earth was still.”
“People poured onto the street, schoolgirls in their uniforms holding each other upright, men crying out to God, singing, chanting, women falling to the pavement with the weight of their collective shock and grief,” Rusch continued. “Chalk caked people’s faces like white greasepaint, streaked red where head wounds wept bloody tears.”
At the University vigil. Reverend Alison L. Boden, Dean of Religious Life, welcomed the attendees, saying the event was intended “to kindle flames of hope, love and support” for those suffering, their families and the humanitarian organizations working to rescue, treat, serve and console the victims.
Opening remarks by Boden were followed by a reflection by Dining Services Sous Chef Julus Charles, whose family lives in Haiti. Charles thanked the University for all the support it has offered its Haitian employees, many of whom are still waiting to hear news from their loved ones. “It means a lot to us,” he said, adding that the nation’s faith and spiritual healing will help its residents overcome the tragedy. “We will survive and be a stronger nation for that.”
Miriam Camara ’10, who also has family in Haiti, expressed her gratitude to the University community. She said she was especially proud of the way her generation has organized to help. “I reassured my worried mother and grandmother in New York that we are here to take an active role and the elders are not bearing the burden alone.”
“It felt great to see so many Princeton students, Haitian and not Haitian, offer their concern and well wishes,” she said. “I have always been glad to be at Princeton, but yesterday really confirmed that I chose to attend a school with a strong sense of community, full of intelligent and motivated students who can mobilize to make an impact on social issues. Thank you for making me feel supported.”
Camara is still waiting for updates from her relatives in the country, including her grandfather, who suffers from cancer and diabetes.
Esther Clovis ’12 is also waiting to hear news of her many family members in Haiti. Her relatives live in a rural area outside of Port-au-Prince, so it has been especially difficult to communicate with them, she said.
“We know for sure that three of my uncles are missing in Port-au-Prince, and we have lost an 8-year-old cousin to the earthquake,” Clovis said as she headed to the vigil. Because roads are blocked, no emergency aid has been able to reach her family or anyone in their town, Clovis explained.
“I cannot find the words to express how devastated I am by this tragedy,” she said. “My family and I continue to pray that help will reach our family members in Haiti.”
Camara expressed similar sympathy and hope for those in the country that has been plagued by countless problems.
“I am shocked, confused, a little angry, but still hopeful. This is a country that has been through a lot in its 206 years of independence, and to be dealt a blow of this magnitude, on top of our other national problems, causes this kind of feeling.”
Reverend Thomas Mullelly’s remarks concluded the vigil. “May the blessings of a white light be with you and remain with you forever,” he said.