On the radio, a BBC reporter talks about shattered, bleeding earthquake victims pouring in. He describes the scene in a calm voice, but in the background, screams punctuate his comments. Sometimes the voice seems to be a child's; other times a woman's. As the reporter continues to speak, the victim's anguish intensifies, turning into an unbroken, frantic shriek. The sound of anonymous suffering is emblematic of Haiti's place in the world, both now and for many past generations.
With this week's catastrophic earthquake that left tens of thousands dead, this tormented land is once again in crisis. And from China to Florida, the world has been swift to respond with volunteers, money and compassion.
Locally, to cite just a few examples, Tampa Fire-Rescue has sent two canine teams to help with search and rescue efforts. The Coast Guard has dispatched two planes from Clearwater to assess the nation and provide airlift, and three HH-60 Jayhawk recovery helicopters from Clearwater have headed there. Florida's emergency management team has sent help from around the state.
It is fitting that Florida, with its sizable Haitian immigrant population, should lend a hand, and as events unfold this state will likely play a significant role in the relief efforts as governments, neighborhoods and countless families respond.
The federal government also has moved quickly to send help, pledging more than $100 million in immediate aid and 5,500 troops. President Barack Obama was smart to enlist the help of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and the administration wisely suspended plans to deport Haitians who are in this country illegally. It would be senseless to send them into the chaos to the south at this time.
The logistical challenge facing those offering help is staggering. The quake wrecked hospitals, schools and government buildings along with homes and businesses. Even before the quake, Haiti was an impoverished country nearly devoid of civil order and basic services. For now, the focus must be on rescuing those buried in rubble, tending to the injured, providing food, water and shelter for survivors, and maintaining order.
In the longer term, this may well prove to be a watershed event for Haiti. The rebuilding should involve more than masons and carpenters. This neglected and exploited former slave colony should get special assistance from developed nations. It is time to help the Haitians reshape, not just rebuild, their country though education, reforestation, agricultural aid and political reform.
Now, though, the focus should be on maintaining order and getting the aid as quickly as possible to the survivors of this disaster of historic proportions.