Tapati (tapati) wrote,

Degrees of Poverty

As I watch the Haiti coverage I have flashbacks of my Loma Prieta experience in 1989. We were close to the epicenter, living in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We were a moderately poor family living in a sort of rural slum dwelling, a refurbished chinchilla farm building. Yes chinchillas were the former residents! The ceilings were low and there was no central heat, just a wood stove. The building was on stilts for some reason, large round posts. During the earthquake it shifted on them alarmingly but remained intact. (And hey, this was a huge step up from being homeless.)

As a poor person in the United States I came out of it fairly well. My dwelling was habitable, though we chose to stay in a tent for a few days during the worst of the aftershocks. A neighbor had water which she offered to share. Our electricity was out so our water was off, dependent on an electric pump. I had sleeping bags and a tent and flashlights and we baked some potatoes that first night in the coals of the fire we all gathered around. The first phase of an earthquake is one of relying on neighbors and good will towards others. Later the irritability and anger set in, especially if vital needs are not met.

The following day we went to a grocery store and bought a few supplies, being allowed in a few at a time. There was no power but they made do and managed to sell groceries without their fancy scanners and computers.

On the 2nd and 3rd days Salvation Army was distributing bags of food and supplies of water for those in need. In spite of one vital road being cut off we had enough resources and enough buildings standing to handle the needs of our community until more supplies arrived. Our downtown was gutted and people did die--but not in the hundreds or thousands.

So I watch in shock every time an earthquake hits anywhere in the "Third World." I always expect a huge death toll because who has money to build earthquake safe buildings? The infrastructure is so vulnerable that it becomes impossible to get the generous aid to the people in a timely manner. I can only imagine how we'd have dealt with a wait of a week or more for something as vital as water! Our hospital was still standing and had back up power. Our injured received prompt care. So we had to use candles and flashlights for awhile, big deal. The only really suffering people in our earthquake were the injured and the families of our dead, and there were far fewer of these. It is just amazing to me how a similar level earthquake can produce such different affects depending on where it happens! (This is not to say that an earthquake isn't a traumatic experience wherever it occurs!)

Haiti is going to need help to rebuild, obviously, and I hope they can receive enough help to rebuild more soundly. President Clinton was already working with the U.N. on a project to improve Haiti's infrastructure and economy. Let us hope that this is a success and that the survivors can move forward to a new day of hope. They finally have a stable government and the attention of the world. Now it's time for those who can to offer more than water and food and give them their chance to prosper.

I am in awe of the spirit I've seen them display during this horrible tragedy.

I look forward to the benefit tonight, Hope for Haiti. 8-10 ET or PT.
Tags: disaster, earthquake, poverty

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