‘Tragedy, again’: Ottawa Haitian community despair in wake of earthquake’s destruction


For Haitians in the Ottawa area, Saturday’s devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the island’s southwest is yet another blow to their home nation.

Émilio Bazile is seen here with his wife, Josette, at the Ottawa airport, after narrowly escaping escalating anti-government violence during a humanitarian mission in 2019. Numerous homes were destroyed and at least 16 killed in Bazile’s hometown of L’Asile by Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake. (Radio-Canada)

When a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti early Saturday, Ottawa’s Dr. Emilio Bazile thought his hometown of L’Asile would be safe.

But as the hours passed, he heard of tragedy after tragedy across the region he called home.

“My sister, her house is destroyed,” he said. “The house where my parents live, also destroyed. Five of my family had their houses destroyed.”

Many, he said, are now homeless, sleeping outdoors, terrified of aftershocks.

Bazile lost a relative to the earthquake. His cousin’s son was crushed in rubble and is unable to walk. And the hospital where he once travelled twice a year to volunteer was destroyed.

“L’Asile lost 16 people,” Bazile said. “We have spent all day, talking — did you hear about this person? … It was a terrible day.”

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For Haitians in the Ottawa area, the earthquake, which has already claimed hundreds of lives, is “tragedy, again,” in the words of Ketcia Peters, the general director of North-South Development Roots and Culture Canada.

The island nation is still reeling from the assassination of its president by armed gunmen on July 7. Protests, blockades and armed conflict have spread across the island. And Port au Prince, the capital, is still not fully recovered from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 people.

“The dominant feeling is helplessness and sadness,” Patrick Auguste, director general of the Association culturelle de la jeunesse haïtienne de demain, told Radio-Canada.

Auguste said the international community must encourage Haitians to “sit down together and establish an inclusive, global plan in order to take the country back in hand.”

A map showing the location of the earthquake in the island’s southwest, close to Bazile’s hometown of L’Asile. (CBC News)

Weibert Arthus, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, told Radio-Canada the Canadian mission there is working to manage a “very complicated situation” in the country.

It’s set up an emergency group to help connect Haitians in Canada with families in the south of the country and provide mental health supports if needed.

For Bazile, Saturday’s earthquake would normally be an occasion to rush to the island and volunteer his services.

But it’s not just COVID-19 that has kept him away. On his last visit to Haiti, in 2019, he barely escaped with his life amid historic anti-government protests.

Bazile is urging Canadians to seek out Haitian aid groups to provide what assistance they can.

But he is not optimistic for a speedy recovery.

“I cannot tell you [that in] the next few weeks, or the next two or three months, their place will get rebuilt, through some kind of help,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so.”

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