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Radio rumor sows panic in Haiti

Naïka Jean/YJI

Port-au-Prince, HAITI – Early on Friday, as listeners across Haiti tuned in to “Radio Caraïbes,” one of the nation’s most widely followed radio stations, especially for morning news, a man made an alarming proclamation that sent fear throughout the country.

He said he had a vision in which Haiti was struck by a catastrophic earthquake. Speaking with conviction, he said he could vividly see the prospective situation occurring at the exact time of 6:55 p.m.

When asked about what people should make of him if it didn’t happen, he answered, “Anything.”

Some people like me who didn’t listen to the radio that  morning didn’t know about that until late afternoon. Indeed, by this time, people had started sending the man’s alert video to their peers.

On social media, young people sent memes to express their anxiety. In my home, my mother decided to stay outside, in our yard, taking with her some clothes, bags and chairs. She urged me to stay outside, too.

This is the moment when things started to feel quite serious.

In my neighborhood, some people, thinking that you never know,  just stayed completely outside of their home. They said that you never know.

This is the case of Kenley Vintrice, a 22-year-old man in professional school. I had the chance to talk to him some minutes before 6:55.

He said he didn’t really believe the man’s prophecy but still had doubts. He chose to be wise by staying outside of his home, in case it came true.

But this is not the first time someone has predicted unfortunate events about Haiti. In 2021, a woman predicted three days of complete darkness in the entire country. Hearing this, people went out to buy plenty of food for their households before the darkness was to come.

But these three days of darkness never happened. How can some Haitian people still believe new predictions without any proof, then?

Regarding this question, Vintrice said he doesn’t listen to people who say they don’t believe because he thinks if the prediction came from the United States, they would listen.

I asked him whether or not he believes people can predict an earthquake. He said he thinks no, but he is not sure.

This may show that some Haitian people may tend to think that an earthquake is somehow predictable while the answer is a strict no. Therefore, there is a big lack of education about earthquakes.

But many houses are still made without respecting building codes that can prevent the damages of such disasters.

And we can’t forget that Haitian culture has historically exhibited a receptiveness to predictions – which  dishonest people have frequently exploited by attributing their messages to divine sources.

This incident also proves that the emotional marks from the earthquakes of January 12, 2010 and August 14, 2021 are still vivid inside Haitian people.

At 6:55 p.m., some voices cried out in my neighborhood, “It’s 6:55.”

And then I heard people laughing some minutes later. The prediction being false felt like a relief, too, even though some people may not have regained their calm yet.

Indeed, Vintrice told me that even though the earthquake did not happen at the exact time it was predicted, he would still have some fears.

Some pertinent questions remain.

To what extent does the sheer popularity of the radio station contribute to the credibility of such claims? Furthermore, shouldn’t there be regulations governing the dissemination of potentially distressing information via radio broadcasts?

And the best, what will we do to our dreamer? After all, he did say we could do “anything” if his prediction fell flat.

It’s all food for thought.

Naïka Jean is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this article and drew the illustration.

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