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Haiti - Cap-Haitien : 182nd anniversaries of the 1842 earthquake and tsunami
08/05/2022 11:05:35

Haiti - Cap-Haitien : 182nd anniversaries of the 1842 earthquake and tsunami
May 7, 2022, brings back to memory the 182nd anniversary of the terrible earthquake of 8.1 on the Richter scale which hit the North Coast of Haiti on Saturday May 7, 1842 at 5:00 p.m. followed by a tsunami (estimated at 5 meters), which destroyed in less than 6 minutes Cap-Haitien and all the cities of the Haitian Atlantic coast causing the death of more than 5,000 people in the city of Cap which at the time had an estimated population of 10,000 inhabitants.

The earthquake was also felt in the Dominican Republic as well as in southern Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and also across the West Indies.

Cap-Haitien was then a flourishing city which prospered by its maritime trade, a city full of life dominated by a class of large opulent planters and by a sumptuous business bourgeoisie. Just before the disaster, Cap was still considered, along with Quebec and New Orleans, as one of the three main commercial and cultural centers of French-speaking America.

It is reported that for fear of an epidemic, the Cape was quarantined. It lost its port function for a long time and "all its maritime traffic had been diverted for several years to the city of Gonaïves".

The population, terrified by the aftershocks which lasted for more than a month, slept only in the street, or in certain buildings spared...

During the days following the disaster, the city was criss-crossed by sinister bands of looters... According to historian Thomas Madiou (1814-1884), "[...] What was even more horrible it was the fury with which the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside rushed towards the city, looting, slaughtering and not thinking of relieving the sufferings of the victims. We saw men transformed into wild beasts cut off the hands of the wounded to remove the rings that adorned them, cut off the thighs to remove the boots. In the ruins of the houses, everything was looted. There was no more authority.

[...] the public treasury had been looted on May 10. It was no longer the work of malefactors properly speaking that one often sees arise in these calamities but of men belonging to the first social rank, employees and public functionaries, both of the civil order and of the military order who devastated the remains of the city at gunpoint [...]". (T. Madiou, History of Haiti, volume VII, p.403)

All the constructions of Cap-Haitien had been destroyed and the city received no help from the Government, neither from abroad, nor even the visit of the President of the time, Jean-Pierre Boyer.

It was only 2 years later, in 1844, that President Philippe Guerrier granted Cap an amount of 50,000 Gourdes which was used to rebuild the city's port and clear the streets of their rubble.

Finally, "throughout the 19th century and beyond, the city remained strewn with ruins… It was not until the 1870s that 28 years later we saw the slow reconstruction of Cape Town and the beginning of a new prosperity".

SL/ S/ HaitiLibre

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