Haitian journalist describes scenes of death and destruction

At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, prominent Haitian journalist Joseph Guyler Delva, 43, was driving his car on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Delva, the country’s leading press freedom advocate, was on his way to pick-up his 7-year-old daughter from school when he heard a loud bang. “I thought I was hit by a truck,” he said. After few moments, he realized it was not a collision. The earth shook beneath him, buildings collapsed in front of him, and in a minute, a great wall of dust fully covered the capital.

Delva (AP)
Delva (AP)

Shortly after the earthquake hit, Delva reacted quickly. With his daughter unharmed, he made his way back to the offices of SOS Journalistes, the organization he created in 2005 to protect local reporters and promote professional journalism. Driving in the chaotic streets of Haiti’s capital was difficult. Delva witnessed total devastation in his path, a city in ruins with people crying and screaming all over the place. When he arrived at the three-story building, Delva almost fainted. The whole structure was gone; there was only rubble remaining.

Delva’s wife was working at the office at the time of the earthquake. Trapped in the debris, she somehow made it out with a few bruises, almost unharmed. “It is a miracle,” Delva said, still in shock. “I can’t believe she is alive.” SOS Journalistes’ premises, all its equipment, and files, have been destroyed. Nothing can be recovered. His own home was partially shattered.

Although he is now sleeping on the floor of a restaurant owned by a colleague in the Pétionville neighborhood, Delva said he feels lucky. His wife and two sons, including a 1-year-old baby boy, are healthy and alive. “After all the death and destruction I’ve seen in a few days, I am fortunate to be here with my family,” he said.

Delva filed a few stories for Reuters, where he works as a correspondent, but then stayed with his wife, who has been emotionally rocked by the catastrophe. Delva said that it is still too early to make an assessment of how badly the Haitian media was hit by the disaster. He said that Radio-Tele Ginen has been destroyed, and the wife of Radio Melodie FM Director Marcus Garcia has died. Several radio stations, like Melodie FM, Radio Caraibes, Signal FM, and Metropole, are functioning. But Delva acknowledged that most journalists cannot work until they deal with their personal issues.

With his car out of gas, Delva drives his motorcycle around the city. He has seen dead bodies piled up in the streets. He said he has to wear a mask because the smell of death is now unbearable. An experienced reporter who has covered both natural disasters and political violence, Delva said he has never seen anything like this. The presence of the international community can be felt, he said, and a flock of media from around the world has come to Haiti. But aid and assistance is still not trickling to the general public, and people are growing desperate.