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Professor shares personal story of Haiti tragedy

In-laws escaped physical harm
Feb 8, 2010
By George Mauzy

For people living in the relative comfort of the United States, major catastrophes in third world countries often feel a million miles away. But in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, nothing could be further from the truth for one Ohio University faculty member. 

Eric Masson, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, watched the fallout from the earthquake, wondering if his in-laws were still alive. With most of the country?s communication systems out of order, he and his wife, Jenny, were desperately trying to find
out if her parents were among the estimated 200,000 casualties.

The frantic search ended two days later when Masson discovered via Facebook that his in-laws survived the tragedy. He spoke with the couple four days after the earthquake and was surprised to find out that their two-story house in Pétion-Ville was only slightly damaged.

Masson said that although his in-laws lost some family members and friends, they are considered lucky.

His mother-in-law was at work in a Port-au-Prince bank during the earthquake and thought someone had set off a bomb that caused her to fall to the floor. She told Masson that it took her four hours to travel four miles to her home because of the chaos and structural damage in the city.

?My in-laws told us they are doing well and their house only suffered a few cracks,? Masson said. ?However, they now sleep downstairs near the door so that they can evacuate quickly if there is an aftershock. They also were fortunate to have enough food and water in the house to sustain them for a significant period of time after the earthquake.?

A two-time visitor to Haiti, Masson said the country?s infrastructure was already in poor condition before the earthquake and he doesn?t know what path of recovery the country will choose.

One of the structural casualties of the earthquake is the historic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, also known as the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, which had its roof collapse. The house of worship, which opened in 1914, was the site of the Masson?s religious wedding in August 2008, one month after the couple was married in a civil ceremony in Athens, Ohio. Masson said the Port-au-Prince landmark held a significant place in the religious and social life of the city and in the hearts of the Haitian people.

Masson said the most heartbreaking thing about the Haiti tragedy is the loss of life and the horrible suffering of the injured and the homeless.

?The death toll is the most horrific thing, probably close to 10 percent of the city?s population,? Masson said. ?And since many more are injured, with limited access to medical treatment, clean water and food, I just don?t know how they?re going to make it.?
Despite the situation, Masson said he is hopeful for the Haitian people and admires their courage and tenacity. He also praised the international community for doing an efficient job during the relief efforts.

While he doesn?t have immediate plans to visit Haiti, Masson said he is focused on letting people know that they can help by giving to the earthquake victims through non-profit organizations like the American Red Cross,* Oxfam,* UNICEF,* or Yéle Haiti.*

He advised sticking with well-known non-profits, cautioning, ?Be extremely careful when you give money. There are always dishonest people out there.?    


* Following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site.


Published: Feb 8, 2010 8:00 AM


Eric Masson and his wife, Jenny, on their wedding day in Haiti. The couple was married in 2008 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, which was destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Photo courtesy of: Eric Masson 

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