Ten Years After Haiti Quake, a Man Left Disabled Struggles to Rebuild His Life

By Robenson Sanon

January 07, 2020

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's calamitous earthquake a decade ago leveled much of the capital, killed tens of thousands and left some 1.5 million people homeless.

One of its longer-term consequences has been the estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people who were permanently disabled as a result of the quake - people like 32-year-old Isaac Joseph, who lost the use of his legs after his neighbor's house collapsed on him.

"That was the worst day there could ever be since the beginning of time," said Joseph, who has been wheelchair-bound ever since. "Everything happened in just 55 seconds."

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the poorest country in the Americas on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying much of Port-au-Prince. Estimates of the number of dead vary from 46,000 to more than 300,000.

"We were lying in bed when we felt a vibration. Then we heard lots of people screaming . . . the house next door fell on ours while we were in bed," he said. A collapsed wall pinned his legs and kept Joseph trapped under rubble for three days until rescuers freed him.

He was taken to hospital where doctors treated him and gave him the news that he would be paralyzed for life.

"It's very, very hard, when I think that my legs were working fine and in less than one hour, I am confined to a wheelchair for life," he recalled, fighting back tears.

After leaving hospital, he was sent to live in a tent city with amputees and other victims. Two years later, the tents were replaced with 400 small wooden prefabricated houses.

"We thought that something was going to happen for us because this was only supposed to be for two years. But no one has visited us since then," he said.

There is no potable water or a health center nearby, the area is unsafe and the house is now dilapidated.

"If you want to go out somewhere, it's difficult to get there because of all the gunfire," Joseph said.

A security vacuum arose when United Nations peacekeeping forces withdrew from Haiti in 2017 after 15 years.

In a country where nearly 60% of the population survives on less than $2.40 a day, Joseph scrapes together a living tutoring neighborhood children. He is studying law and aims to become an advocate for handicapped Haitians.

At times, he feels judged for his disability.

"When I have to ask for help from people who don't want to help, it's very hard to accept it," he said. "You can feel the person really doesn't want to help you, but you take their help anyway."

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