Haiti: A Nightmare Come True

First of all, it breaks my heart seeing these poor people on television. It’s hard to watch… surreal in a sense. Sadly, its real and not just some bad nightmare we wake from. Haiti is a stone’s throw from Florida and if anyone wants a taste of reality, hop on a flight and you are mere hours from seeing the devastation first hand. Dead bodies piling up and the ambulatory masses wandering aimlessly in the streets. Mother nature is cruel. She is blind. When she exhales, brace yourself because any of your worst nightmares could come to fruition.

Why is the devastation so great there in Haiti? Simple: no building codes. It’s not like the residents and even the local jurisdictions and businesses have the means to access big banks with bulging pockets for any of their construction endeavors. Then what is their recourse if they wish to build a structure? Keep it very cheap and toss conventional safety measures out the window. Forget finding quality pine and Douglas fir like that found at Home Depot. Haiti’s do-it-yourself homes likely use standard building materials that include: porous cinder blocks, low-grade bricks, cheap cement, local rock/gravel, mud, limestone and whatever else they can scrounge together to form a mortar of sorts to slap over haphazardly placed rebar (if not some flimsy wire… or none at all). Toss a couple of pieces of corrugated tin roofing atop and presto, you got basic shelter.  A skilled set of hands can construct a stable building with these materials, but being one of the poorest countries in the world, I doubt sound construction practices are implemented.

A 7.0 magnitude quake is HUGE and I should know, I was thrown out of bed by the Hector Mine 7.0 magnitude quake back in 1999 after moving into a newly bought home in the desert of southern California. The epicenter was not at all far from me and my family. An antique display spittoon (with a heavy base) was sitting on the floor of our home before the quake and after I assessed the home for damage after the quake, the spittoon was on it’s side–think about it. The quake was a massive one. Thankfully, the only damage I could find was around the perimeter of the home, where the hard desert dirt displayed some cracking–which meant that the home’s base was literally sliding a bit as the seismic waves hit the home.

Side note: I had the pleasure of experiencing a recent 4.7 magnitude quake here in the L.A. area back in March 2009. I happened to be around for the 1987 5.9 magnitude Whittier-Narrows quake as well… (-sigh- Damn, I gotta get outta here!).

The point for which I bring up my old residence is that the home was built from wood using the standard building codes. If the home was built the way they were built in Haiti prior to the quake there, I am sure we would have suffered from injury or death because we were in a deep sleep at the time and response time to vacate the home was not that fast.

Codes are important. It’s a pain in the side of visionaries like me and others who wish to build with unconventional materials like shipping containers, but nonetheless, it is necessary for safety. Ironically, the most devastated homes and structures in the Haitian disaster are those of the more affluent; and the poorest of people fared better with their tin roofs and low home heights (though that isn’t much of a consolation given the scope of devastation). My heart, thoughts and best wishes are with them.

To help the poor souls in Haiti: RedCross.org

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