Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Haiti will not die, President Rene Preval insists


Thousands gathered to pray for the earthquake victims

Haiti's President Rene Preval has vowed that his country will live on, during a day of national mourning held a month after the earthquake struck.

He spoke at an emotional ceremony in the capital, Port-au-Prince, near the ruins of the National Palace.

"Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die," he told mourners.

At least 217,000 people died in the devastating earthquake on 12 January, which also left about 300,000 injured and one million homeless.

Representatives from Haiti's two official religions - a Catholic bishop and the head of the Voodoo priests, both robed in white - joined ministers from Protestant denominations for the main prayer service in central Port-au-Prince.

Mike Wooldridge
By Mike Wooldridge, BBC News, Titanyen

Amid scrub-covered hills to the north of Port-au-Prince, some 50 worshippers led by a Haitian bishop celebrated mass on the graves where tens of thousands of the earthquake victims lie buried.

A small wooden table atop one of the mass graves in the scrub-covered low hills served as the altar.

Swinging incense above the graves and sprinkling water on them, the bishop said he aimed to give dignity to their hasty burial.

"Tend to your brothers and sisters, calling out from under the ground," he said.

Thousands of people gathered for the ceremony in the shade of mimosa trees. President Preval wept during the service, and was comforted by his wife.

"Wipe away your tears to rebuild Haiti," he said in his address.

"Today, allow me as citizen Rene Preval, the man, the father of a family, to address you to say that I cannot find the words to speak of this immense pain.

"It is in your courage that we will find the strength to go on."

Other prayer services were held across the country, including one at the site of a mass grave outside the capital which is believed to hold tens of thousands of victims.

Later, Haitians at home and abroad were asked to kneel and pray at exactly the time the earthquake hit, at 1653 local time (2153 GMT).

The Associated Press news agency reports that the remaining churches in Port-au-Prince's Petionville suburb were so packed that loudspeakers had to be set up so those left outside in the streets could follow the service.

"All families were affected by this tragedy and we are celebrating the memory of the people we lost," one mourner, Desire Joseph Dorsaintvil, told AP.

Rain threat

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge says the act of national reflection came as one of the largest humanitarian operations ever mounted grappled with challenges on many fronts.

Magnitude seven quake strikes south-west of Port-au-Prince at 1653 local time (2153 GMT), 12 January
Government now reports between 217,000 and 230,000 dead, 300,000 injured
About three million affected, one million homeless, 250,000 homes destroyed
Quake sparks massive international aid effort - more than $500m (£320m) donated from US
UN says 53 million tonnes of rubble must be removed
US has assigned 13,000 military personnel

He says a heavy downpour on the eve of the anniversary provided a foretaste of the misery that lies ahead for the many people who still have only the flimsiest shelter in impromptu camps, if the pace of getting out more tents and stronger shelter materials is not stepped up before the start of the rainy season.

In the biggest of the camps that sprang up in the capital after the earthquake, people are still living under sheeting strung across wooden poles.

The government says the seasonal rains could be the biggest threat now to the nation's attempts at recovery.

The European Union has proposed a military mission to step up the provision of shelter before the rains worsen.

The UN aid co-ordinator for Haiti, ex-US President Bill Clinton, said Haiti could get through the crisis with the help of international donors.

"Though conditions are improving each day, countless people remain in urgent need of shelter and building materials, water and sanitation, food and clothing, and essential medical supplies," he said in a statement.

The White House warned that the situation in Haiti "remains dire", but added that the US "continues to stand with our Haitian friends as they recover".

This week's Haitian government figures suggesting up to 230,000 dead means the quake toll is approaching that of the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed 250,000 people.

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