Haiti to mark two years after catastrophic quake

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 12, 2012 1:33 AM
Haiti to mark two years after catastrophic quake

By Kevin Gray and Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti will commemorate the two-year anniversary on Thursday of a devastating earthquake that ravaged the Western Hemisphere's poorest country as it struggles to rebuild and hundreds of thousands of quake victims remain homeless.

Haitians are expected to hold solemn ceremonies at massive grave sites to remember the dead from Haiti's worst-ever natural disaster.

The 7.0 magnitude quake on January 12, 2010, lasted only 10 to 20 seconds but toppled buildings and homes like cards and killed roughly 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless.

President Michele Martelly has vowed to redouble government efforts to help people rebuild their lives and reverse a painfully slow recovery marked by squalid tent camps home to more than a half a million people in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

"This year is a year when we will really start rebuilding physically but also rebuilding the hope and the future of the Haitian people," he said on Wednesday.

He also announced new efforts backed by the Canadian government to relocate some 20,000 people from tent encampments only blocks from the still crumpled presidential palace.

Canada said it was contributing $20 million to the relocation effort.

In the first event of Thursday's remembrance, Martelly plans to inaugurate a new university donated by Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic.

Located near the two countries' shared border, the Roi Henri Christophe University will be one of Haiti's biggest buildings and Martelly hopes the event will send a signal the country is taking steps forward.

Despite billions of dollars of international donations and aid pledges, many Haitians say they see few tangible results of the recovery and reconstruction effort.

Just over half of the piles of concrete, steel and other debris littering the capital of Port-au-Prince and its surrounding areas has been cleared.

Haitians also complain about a lack of housing and jobs two years after the quake.

Government officials point to post-quake projects like a $257 million industrial park being built on Haiti's northwest coast and a program to stimulate agriculture production as evidence some progress is being made.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, a U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, arrived in Haiti on Wednesday and will participate in some of the memorial services.

On Wednesday, he toured two businesses in northern Haiti to highlight the country's investment opportunities.

(Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Bill Trott)