Haiti reels after earthquake

UNC student on mission trip left just hours before

As UNC senior Jeanne Vodicka waited to board her flight home from a mission trip in Haiti, the world of the people she said she grew to love was crumbling.

Vodicka left Haiti on Tuesday for an airport in the Dominican Republic only hours before a devastating magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince.

Haitian President Rene Preval predicted thousands of dead, McClatchy News Services reported. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said that number could be more than 100,000. The city has about 2 million residents.

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The earthquake leveled much of the city, including the Haitian parliament building and many schools and hospitals.

Vodicka, who volunteered and stayed with a Haitian family in the northern part of the country for two weeks, was returning to the United States when the lights at the airport — about 140 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake — went out for a few seconds.

It was not until Vodicka’s flight landed in Miami and she saw a string of worried texts from her mother that she said she became aware of the cause of the power outage and of the devastation that had struck Haiti.

“I broke down into tears. I can’t really even watch the news right now,” she said.

A UNC graduate student living in Haiti remains there. She contacted a friend Wednesday morning to let her know that she was safe although the house she was living in collapsed during the earthquake, said Margaret Bentley, associate dean for global health at UNC.

The student is staying in a United Nations relief camp. University officials are not allowed to release the name of the student, Bentley said.

Bill Gentry, director of the community preparedness and disaster relief management program at UNC, said as many as 3 million people are reported to be affected by the earthquake.

“Earthquakes have historically proved to be larger-scale disasters than floods and wildfires because they do more structural damage,” he said.

Gentry, who aided relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, said rubble will be the biggest obstacle to delivering relief and supplies to Haitians.

Even getting relief and supplies into the country will be difficult because the Port-au-Prince airport is not equipped to handle the sheer number of planes on their way, he said.

The damage is concentrated in Port-au-Prince, which is densely-populated and filled with narrow streets and buildings that are close together and fail to meet building codes, McClatchy reported.

There is little a country as poor as Haiti could do to avoid a disaster they knew could happen, Gentry said.

“This place needed help before this happened. People down there don’t have anything,” Vodicka said.

Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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