LÉOGANE, Haiti -- They prayed underneath tarps held together with plastic pipes, sat on cinder blocks behind a destroyed Cathedral while giving praise to God and crowded the entrance of quake-damaged buildings as they broke into song.
Four years after a cataclysmic 7.0 earthquake left more than 300,000 dead, an equal number injured and 1.5 million homeless, Haiti and Haitians on Sunday remembered their dead — and were called upon to celebrate life.
“We are here,” Pastor Guy Fontaine said to a packed congregation inside the Christian Church of Leogane, where the quake’s epicenter passed on Jan. 12, 2010, toppling churches and private homes, and splitting open roads in this seaside town south of the capital.
Fontaine’s sentiment was echoed across Haiti, where pastors, priests and Voudouists joined Haitian President Michel Martelly, members of his government and the foreign diplomatic corps near the grounds of the razed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince for a low-key ceremony to commemorate the day. This was the second consecutive year that Haiti had opted for an understated ceremony. Martelly laid a wreath earlier in the morning at the mountaintop site on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince where many were buried in mass graves, and later white balloons were released after a siren sounded for 35 seconds — the amount of time the quake lasted.
Martelly, in an address that was broadcast over state television, called on Haitians to come together to reconstruct their country in much the same way they put their hands together in the hours and days immediately after the quake to dig each other out from underneath the rubble.
“We owe this to the victims of Jan. 12,” said Martelly, who was dressed in white. “Let’s choose to not just exist, but to live, to celebrate life.”