"Terremoto" = Spanish for "earthquake"
While riding home with the Bolivian troops last night, I learned a few things about the earthquake.
The United Nations has been stationed in Haiti for several years, and most of the Bolivian troops I met had been in Haiti since summer 2009. The earthquake hit at about 5pm local time on Tuesday January 12th. The Bolivian troops play soccer every evening on the camp fields. The dogs that play soccer with them started running in all directions and howling. And all of a sudden, the ground started rocking back and forth, and the a "ripple-effect" ran through the mountains, like someone was shaking out a tablecloth.
There was no sound or rumbling, just movement.
And about 25 seconds later, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake had passed.
Within those seconds, over 1 million people were left homeless, 300,000 were injured and 230,000 were killed.
Since the earthquake occurred in the evening, most people were leaving work or headed home, which (according to the Bolivians) probably cut the death toll in half. Had the earthquake occurred during the day or in the middle of the night, hundreds of thousands MORE would have been hurt or killed.
With no warning and no sound, the people of Haiti didn't even have a chance to run. Within 25 seconds, people like our translator Geraldo Luis lost everything and everyone they loved. The entire country had been picked up and shaken like an Etch-a-Sketch.
The soldiers (most of whom had been away from home for almost a year) immediately turned their efforts to disaster relief - pulling bodies from the rubble and tending to the injured and dying. They weren't able to reach their families in Bolivia until several days later, when the phone and internet service returned. The soldiers said none of the Camp Charlie soldiers were hurt or killed. Even in the dark of the UN truck, you could tell by the look on their faces that they didn't want to talk about it.
One of the soldiers emailed me some photos he took during the first few days after the earthquake (*disclaimer*... this is some f-ed up sh*t):