Maritimers remember those lost on 10th anniversary of Haitian earthquake disaster
HALIFAX -- Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of a disaster that killed 200,000 people and left many more homeless in Haiti when an earthquake shook the country to its core. Unfortunately, the tragic event also left its mark on the Maritimes by killing one local police officer – leaving his friend to cope with the aftermath.
New Brunswick RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallager was on a United Nations humanitarian mission in Haiti when the deadly earthquake struck in 2010 – killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people and flattening entire communities.
Peter Korotkov remembers his friend and former colleague, who died that fateful day in Port-au-Prince. The two communicated while Gallagher was overseas, with Korotkov scheduled to visit later that month.
When the earthquake struck, everything changed.
“It's sad even after ten years now – he was such a special individual,” says Korotkov. “Somebody called me on the phone and told me that Mark was missing and that there had been an earthquake there. So, we naturally thought that he was just helping people down there because of the disaster that occurred.”
Two days later, the news came – Gallagher had been killed.
“He was living in my old apartment building, and his apartment was right underneath my old apartment,” says former Halifax Police chief Jean-Michel Blais. “I knew exactly where to go.”
Because of conditions on the ground, Blais wasn't able to recover Gallagher's body until days later. Having had already completed two tours with the UN in Haiti, Blais led the mission to Port-au-Prince to recover the bodies of both Gallagher and RCMP chief superintendent, Douglas Coates, who posted Blais to Haiti for a year in 2008.
“I went on the site of my old headquarters, and that's where the majority of them died, including Doug Coates,” says Blais. “It was surreal.”
The bodies were returned to Canada and Blais was present as Coates was laid to rest on January 27, 2010, in Ottawa; meanwhile, Gallagher’s funeral was held on January 28, 2010, in Woodstock, New Brunswick.
Fortunately, Gallagher’s legacy will live on as a school in Haiti, which teaches students valued trades, was built in his name.
“I hear it's doing really well,” says Blais. “I think Mark would be really proud of it and he'd be full of joy to have his name on it.”
For Blais, whose time in Haiti led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the anniversary is a time to reflect on what there is to be thankful for.
“What I've done is I've used it, the experience, and the lasting effects, to be a better person and to be able to appreciate what I have,” says Blais.
Meanwhile, on the national front, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the anniversary, noting that Canada remains committed to supporting the Haitian people and remembers those who lost their lives during the earthquake.