Editor's Note: Dr. John Mutter is a professor at Columbia University in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Department of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He studies the role of environmental systems in sustainable development, including the role of natural disasters in reducing development opportunities for the poorest people. He founded and directs the Hurricane Katrina Deceased Victims List.
By John Mutter
Extremes of nature, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can occur almost anywhere. Their effect can be anything from a nuisance, the storm that ruins the seaside vacation, to the tsunami that takes more than a quarter of a million lives and ruins livelihoods for countless more.
Human losses are the most tragic of disasters’ many consequences and we wait now, aghast at the images on the Web and in the news media, wondering just how many people have died. How many children were in collapsed schools and people buried in hospital beds?
The magnitude of a natural extreme is a weak guide to the effect it will have. The Landers earthquake in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake of 1994 were about the same magnitude as the earthquake that struck near to Port-au-Prince, yet only 75 people died in those events. Any death is a tragedy, but we now brace ourselves for what we can expect to be horrifyingly large number in Haiti.
Earthquakes don’t kill people; buildings do. And the poorest constructed buildings are inevitably home to the very poorest people. Homes and other structures built way out of safe building code – if codes even exist or are known about, or minimally enforced after the building inspector is bribed for a permit – are built by people who lack the resources to build minimally safe structures if they could.
The rapidly expanding peri-urban slums encircling cities throughout the world are a swarm of these dwellings ready to kill their occupants at the slightest shaking or downpour. Often built in marginal lands, like barely reclaimed swamps and steep hillsides, they are the most dangerous places on earth to live.
Editor’s note: Last week, we brought you the story of Aaron and Jamie Ivey of Austin, Texas. They’ve been trying to adopt two children from Haiti for more than two years. Story, 2, came home to them in October. Amos, 4, is still in Haiti. His paperwork was delayed, so he was in Cazale, northwest of Port-au-Prince, when the earthquake struck last Tuesday. Amos lives at the Real Hope for Haiti rescue center while he waits to go home to his new family. Below is a look at how Real Hope for Haiti has been impacted by the deadly quake.
By Beth Anne Marengo, CNN
As the days pass, the pleas get more frantic – the needs more shocking.
Their requests come in fits and starts, in sporadic phone calls and blog posts. First, Casey Zachary’s family asked for prayers. Now they’re desperate for formula, fearful of a food shortage, and greatly in need of diesel fuel for their generator, medical supplies for their clinic – and a way to get cash to try to pay for it all.
Last night, Casey’s sister Lori, a registered nurse, e-mailed his wife, a medical resident, and asked her for advice on how to treat rotting flesh and amputate limbs with household tools.
Casey Zachary’s parents, Davis and Gretchen, started Real Hope for Haiti in 1999 when they began taking ill, injured and neglected children into their home. Today, Davis and his daughters Lori and Licia, along with their Haitian husbands, operate a clinic and rescue center for malnourished children and orphans in Cazale, about 20 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince. Although they’ve been hard hit by the quake, they are determined to continue to provide care and comfort for the people of Haiti.
“I feel I must stay as long as I can for these beautiful people I love so dearly,” Licia Zachary Beton said via email.
In ordinary times, Casey says the clinic sees 250-300 patients a day. In the aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti last Tuesday, they are overwhelmed.
"My sister is a nurse, but since we’re one of the only sources of medical care in the area," Casey explains, "she often performs the duties of a doctor. But they never treat injuries this serious – and they’re not equipped to handle them," he said by telephone from Seattle, where he lives while his wife completes her residency and he finishes seminarian studies.
The RHFH team is also scrambling to care for the 70 or so children who live at the rescue center. They all survived, but many are already sick or orphaned, making them even more vulnerable to the effects of the earthquake.
Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the forthcoming "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
By John Avlon, Special to CNN
(CNN) - On Tuesday, the eyes of the political world will be turned to Massachusetts where an unexpectedly close special election is being held to determine who will succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate.
Conventional wisdom labels Massachusetts a liberal bastion, but this stereotype misses the mark. In fact, there are more independents in Massachusetts than Democrats or Republicans.
Take a look at the numbers: There are roughly 2.1 million independent voters in Massachusetts, 1.5 million Democrats, and 500,000 Republicans. Yes, Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the Bay State - especially in Boston - but there are more independents than Democrats and Republicans combined.
This is the key to understanding why the race between Republican State Sen. Scott Brown and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, is so close. It reflects a broader dynamic occurring in American politics: Independents are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate.
There are now 11 states like Massachusetts, where independents outnumber Democrats or Republicans outright. Winning independents is the key to winning any election - and right now, independents are angry at the Democrat-controlled congress.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) - The head of a humanitarian aid group and a few of his colleagues survived 50 hours beneath the rubble of a hotel, with the help of a few things he keeps in his bag for his two young children.
"We had one Tootsie Pop and we did share that," said Rick Santos, president and CEO of IMA World Health.
He also had a bit of gum.
While the supplies helped, Santos said, "I think we made it because we talked to each other, we helped each other, and we had this hope that we would be rescued at some point."
Two of his colleagues did not survive.
Santos and five colleagues had been walking through the lobby of the Hotel Montana last Tuesday when he saw one of the chandeliers swing. "And before it even made its way down, just everything crashed and collapsed on top of us," he told CNN's "American Morning" on Monday.
Editor's Note: The cloud of despair that has engulfed Haiti continues to be punctured by stories of hope and survival. Our Jason Carroll is in Port-au-Prince where he went looking for a father after his son here in New York contacted CNN.
By Jason Carroll and Justin Dial, CNN
When news of the quake broke and images of destruction poured in, Sachiel Mondesir sat in New York, frustrated and worried, unable to reach his father Jean Syrie who was vacationing in Port-au-Prince.
"I was scared. I wanted to know something. Each time I saw a body in the street, I saw houses down, I was afraid where my father could be."
Mondesir tried everything, but communications were down and the U.S. embassy out of reach.
"It was a sense of helplessness where you can't do anything for the person you love. I didn't know what to do."
So Mondesir took a chance and sent an e-mail to CNN asking for help, attaching his father's picture and address.
Armed with the information, we set out to find Jean Syrie. Our local driver, snaking through the complicated streets, asking questions along the way. Finally, we spotted the address, in a neighborhood called Delmas 24.
The Mondesir home was destroyed. There was no sign of Sachiel's father, but we did find Sachiel's aunt.
He represents more Haitian-Americans than any other member of Congress. That's why Kendrick Meek couldn't wait any longer to visit the devastated country.
The representative from South Florida bought a one-way ticket from Miami to the Dominican Republic, landing Sunday morning just after midnight and driving overnight to Haiti. He joined us on Monday's American Morning, live from Port-au-Prince.
Read more: Latest updates on Haiti