College of William and Mary students Jonna Knappenberger ’09 and Landon Yarrington M.A. ’09 Ph.D ’15 are safe in the United States after enduring the trauma of Haiti’s devastating earthquake Jan. 12.
The 7.0-magnitude quake struck 16 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, causing massive destruction. 70,000 bodies have been buried already, and estimates of fatalities rise as high as 200,000.
Knappenberger and Yarrington, both anthropology students in the country for independent research, were in the Delmas 17 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck.
“All of a sudden we saw the dust in the street rise, and then a water pipe broke,” Knappenberger said. “The best way to describe it is that the earth rolled in and tried to slap us in the face. It was like riding a wave of land.”
At first, Knappenberger said she was not sure if the tremor was normal for Haiti.
“The two [Haitian] friends we were with were on their knees,” she said. “They were our protectors and our friends. When I looked into their eyes and saw their fear, I knew this was abnormal.”
The damage done to the city was tremendous.
“We heard the houses falling down everywhere. People on the street were asking us for help. Landon wanted to help, but it was unsafe to go into the buildings. Every house was damaged,” Knappenberger said.
Following the earthquake, Yarrington tried to gather the people of the neighborhood in order to create some sort of organization.
“He put me in the car to the [United Nations] headquarters at the airport, [and] we were reunited three hours afterwards,” Knappenberger said. “We stayed at the UN for three days [before returning to the United States]. We were very shaken.”
Danny Yates ’13 was also in Haiti at the time of the quake with a five-member church mission group.
“We were in a town called Hinche, 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince,” he said. “The earthquake wasn’t that severe where we were, but the aftereffects were awful. It was worse than any end-of-the-world movie.”
Yates said the number of refugees fleeing to smaller, poorer towns worried authorities, as the towns lack the sufficient infrastructure sufficient to accommodate the large influx of people.
“In Haiti, they are afraid that starvation and violence will cause more fatalities than the earthquake itself, like a ripple effect,” he said.
Yates is concentrating on helping the people of Hinche.
“My effort is to focus on the people I know down there, and their main issue is that they do not have enough food to support the people coming in from the big cities,” he said.
Yates said seeing the abundance of food at the College is especially difficult for him.
“It’s hard for me to walk through the Caf and see how much food we have here, knowing that there are people in dire need in Haiti,” he said.
Knappenberger and Yarrington said they are both focused on helping the victims of the quake they left behind in Haiti.
They are working with William and Mary Supports Haiti to direct relief efforts toward charities that most need the resources.
“Of course groups like the Red Cross [are] incredibly important for delivering food and rescuing people from buildings, but the issues in Haiti go much deeper than that,” Yarrington said. “Groups that are smaller and run by Haitians are essential because they know that rebuilding and restructuring do end at food and water. They are going about these essential services with an eye to the future.”
Knappenberger and Yarrington recommend that William and Mary Supports Haiti’s funds benefit the organizations Sonje Ayiti, SOIL and Fondwa.