Thursday, January 14, 2010

"El terremoto" (the earthquake), as experienced in Santo Domingo

Kudos to Rich for helping to point out the various ways in which individuals can contribute to the recovery effort in Haiti, which most people know by now was devastated by an earthquake two days ago. I don't have much to add to his post, but since I happened to have been in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at the time, I wanted to relate my experience.
A few people know that I was in the D. R. this past week helping Luke Mahler, along with Bryan Falk and Jose Luis Herrera, to collect several large series of anoles for an ongoing collaborative project between Jonathan Losos and Butch Brodie on the evolution of G and P matrices in Anolis lizards of the Caribbean. While Luke and Jose Luis were out dealing with the Dominican permitting authorities, Bryan and I spent all of Tuesday (our penultimate full day on the island) preparing the last of our large specimens series. This was to ensure that the specimens had at least 24 hours of "fixing time" before they'd need to be repackaged for transportation back the MCZ at Harvard. When the earthquake struck, Bryan and I had just been rejoined by Luke and we were all sitting around the kitchen table (aka., makeshift lab bench).
To both Bryan and I alike, the sensation of the earthquake was very strange. Since the notion of an earthquake seems totally preposterous to anyone who hasn't experienced one before (myself included), my first reaction was that to think that I was just a little dizzy (perhaps from hours spent bent over trays of 95% ethanol). The whole world seemed to be swaying back and forth in front of me and I felt lightheaded. But at the moment that Bryan (who had been thinking the same thing) and I made eye contact, it was clear that we were not shaking - the world was. The tremor seemed to last about 10 seconds or so, during which time I got up and walked to the window to try and figure out if the it was the building that was shaking, or the tree next to it (undoubtedly both were). Naturally, our reaction was something to the effect of "holy $%!*, was that an earthquake?" Luke said something like "that was crazy - you guys need to remind me about this later so we can check and see if it made the news." Someone might have also said - "Liam, you should write a Dechronization post about this." We then proceeded to debate what numerical on the Richter scale the earthquake might of been worth, and so forth (although neither Luke nor I had ever experienced one before), as we continued fixing lizards. At the time, we hadn't the slightest inkling of the devastation that had been wreaked in Port-au-Prince by the same tremors that we were discussing so casually over the dissecting tray.
So, I second Rich's suggestion that we all try and find ways (large or small) to help alleviate the pressure on Haiti that has been wrought by this latest disaster. It also seems clear that the devastation of these natural disasters is massively exacerbated by the generally low level of economic development in the region. Imagine 40,000-50,000 deaths from a natural disaster in the United States? It's inconceivable.
Since I have never been to Haiti, the picture above is one snapped by Bryan of a Haitian boy in the mountains near Polo, in the Barahona Province of the the Dominican Republic.


Susan Perkins said...

Thanks, Liam. I was so glad to hear that you are all ok yesterday. I love that photo - there are tons of Haitian refugees in the DR - especially near Polo. Although I've never been to Haiti, seeing how poor they were and how simply they lived was always a shock to me to imagine just how bad things must be in Haiti.

Glor said...

Before going to Haiti it was difficult for me to understand why Haitians would move to the Dominican Republic, given the poverty and discrimination they experience there. However, when I visited Haiti last summer it became clear that even the worst conditions in the DR are better than fairly typical conditions in rural Haiti. It's hard to imagine how much worst things are going to be now. I'll be interested to see how the Dominican's respond to the wave of Hatian immigration that is sure to follow this quake.