Helping Haiti *UPDATED*

I am distrustful of television, since it often creates a false reality.  When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989, I was out of town.  The images shown on CNN made it look as if the whole city was in ruins.  I was terrified about what had happened to my family and friends.  It was only when I carefully watched the endlessly looped images of destruction that I realized that only three areas had been hit, albeit hit horribly badly:  the Marina District, the Oakland freeway, and a one block area in downtown.  Yes, a section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed; and, yes, houses in the Sunset District had sustained some damages; and yes, people were without power and incredibly frightened and had things broken in their homes and offices, but it was not the 1906 style conflagration the media tried to present.

I resented the media hysteria, but understood it.  TV is a purely visual animal, and you need good visuals.  The buildings that didn’t fall down make for bad TV.

All of which gets me to Haiti.  I’ve been sitting a little bit on the sidelines with this one.  Yesterday’s print stories were rather vague in terms of casualties and, as always, I doubted the visuals.  It’s becoming clear, though, that the earthquake was one of devastating proportions.  In a city with expensive building codes, it might have been bad; in a city built in as haphazard a manner as 17th Century Lisbon, it’s proving to be every bit as disastrous as that fabled quake.

If you would like to help out the Haitians, the Anchoress has complied a long list of charitable organizations.  Also, a friend whom I greatly respect has been urging contributions to a Haitian based organization called Beyond Borders.  Given Haiti’s long-standing structural problems, I have no doubt that vast amounts of the relief money will simply vanish, never to be seen again.  Nevertheless, in a country that poor and damaged, anything that gets through to the people is going to be a good thing.

UPDATE:  It turns out that this quake wasn’t unexpected, at least if one was paying attention.

UPDATE IIPictures from the scene.  And, rickety special effects not withstanding, this scene from the 1936 movie San Francisco is as good an imagining of a big earthquake as any I’ve seen (starting about 1 minute in):

It’s very obvious to those familiar with pictures taken immediately after the earthquake that the film’s special effects people relied upon them closely as a guide.

Here’s original footage of San Francisco after some of the clean-up had already begun:

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  • MacG

    Cons, scams and high overhaed are reasons to be distrustful when giving relief.  This is why my church Hillside Church of Marin gives to One Great our of Sharing, administered through Church World Service.  This is a cooprerative of 36 denominations and it has no overhead.  All donations, 100 cents on the dollar, go for relief  directly to local missions for relief aid, stimulating the local economies as well. This is not a solicitation to join my church nor for “leaky roof” funds but information about a channel of trusted reilef for these people should one be looking to use just such a channel.

  • Ymarsakar

    If the US annexes Haiti, you’d actually get most of the money spent. Pork barrels, after all, get spent on something. And eventually their tax base will be able to contribute back in the pool.

  • Tonestaple

    My only big earthquake was the 2001 Nisqually quake in Washington which was a 6.8, and I hope I never have to experience that again.  There are few things as sick-feeling as having things move that are NOT supposed to move.
    I found a website called Charity Navigator which rates charities based on how much money goes to the stated purpose and how much goes to fund-raising.  Michael Medved mentioned one yesterday, Food for the Poor, which according to Charity Navigator spends almost 98% of its revenue on aid.  It might be worth a look if you don’t normally donate to international relief.  If anyone knows of any other charity rating sites, I would be interested to see them.