Walter Mooney testimonial

Walter Mooney is a research seismologist and geophysicist who visited Haiti after the earthquake

Margarita Mooney’s uncle, Walter D. Mooney, is a research seismologist and geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, based in Palo Alto, CA. He wrote this e-mail to her on February 3rd, 2010, about his trip to Haiti.

Dear Margarita,

I am pleased to help. Please acknowledge that my visit to Haiti as a U.S. Geological Survey expert was supported by USAID, the US Embassy [in Haiti], and SOUTHCOM, the US military Southern Command, which provided my air transportation, a four-wheel drive vehicle, driver/translator, and military escort (U.S. Army Major Eric Dennis). I am indebted to them for making my visit possible. (I slept on the U.S. Embassy grounds in a tent on the grass.) I hope you can visit Haiti soon.

USAID web sites will contain the factual information regarding numbers of homeless and such. That is a more reliable source of information for such matters. However, I was on the ground for eight days and drove around Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Leogane, Dufort, and out to Grand Goave and Petit Goave, as well as south, one-third of the way to Jacmel, to Tomgato. If you have the chance, please consider going to Haiti as soon as possible. There's no substitute for an eyewitness.

Haiti map

The level of devastation is truly remarkable. Much of the inhabited land southwest of Port-au-Prince (where the earthquake struck) surrounds the rich soil of the sugar cane fields. However, these soft soils tend to amplify ground shaking from earthquakes (like a bowl of jello) with the result that countless buildings along the coastal plain southwest of Port-au-Prince were subjected to extremely intense ground shaking. Particularly vulnerable were concrete buildings that do not conform to earthquake engineering standards in terms of the use of adequate steel reinforcement and the quality of concrete. As a U.S. Geological Survey earthquake scientist, I witnessed countless buildings that collapsed due to improper implementation of basic structural engineering standards, with the result of total and near-instantaneous collapse. Many thousands of lives were lost within the first 5-10 seconds of the earthquake due to the lack of a seismic building code, and/or the enforcement of building safety standards. The challenge for the international community is to support the financing and implementation of modern building codes in Haiti.

Although aid has been pouring into Haiti, many, if not most, of the communities that I visited outside of Port-au-Prince have received only minimal assistance. The rural population has largely been left to fend for itself in terms of food, water, and recovery. Only some two weeks after the January 12, 2010, earthquake I finally began to see some level of organization of the recovery effort. Teams of local people can now (early February, 2010) be seen removing debris, cleaning clogged culverts, and working to remove still-hazardous buildings with sledge hammers. Countless thousands remain in self-made tents consisting of nothing more than wooden sticks in the ground covered with bed sheets and pieces of plastic. The housing is truly pathetic and beyond any imagination. These homeless people have no idea what their future will be, particularly given that they have no possessions, income, nor home. They bathe in the local rivers, eat locally grown crops (such as bananas), and depend on the irregular distributions of rice and water from aid agencies. The situation for them is truly desperate. Despite their situation, they continue to act with dignity, greet foreign visitors with warmth, and are overflowing with a desire to tell a visitor about their circumstances in the hope that they will carry the message back to those who might offer some assistance.

Yours, 

Walter

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