Mireille Louis Charles woke up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday sweating and with her stomach in knots.
She couldn’t shake the painful memories of Jan. 12, 2010, that kept spinning in her head.
She remembered the conversation she had with her cousin six years ago, only moments after a 7.0 earthquake rattled her native Haiti.
“I remember saying is everything OK and then the line went dead,” she said.
For four days Charles, executive director of the Green Family Foundation in Miami Beach, waited for news. And while her cousin survived, Charles said knowing that more 300,000 people were killed from the quake is still hard for her to process.
"Those people did not wake up that day thinking about death," she said, fighting back tears. “Everyone lost someone.”
Charles was one of dozens who gathered at the statue of Toussaint L'Ouverture on North Miami Avenue and Northeast 62nd Street in Little Haiti on Tuesday to mark the sixth anniversary of the deadly quake.
At 4:53, the moment that the quake struck just southwest of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, attendees bowed their heads in silent prayer.
The group, carrying the Haitian flag and signs including Let Haiti Live, marched along busy Northeast 62nd Street to the Little Haiti Cultural Center for a program that included songs, prayers and speeches.
Among those who walked was Lisa and Albert Gemmen, who adopted their 5-year-old daughter Sonia from Haiti and are in the process of adopting a 6-year-old girl from Haiti.
“So many lives were lost and so many children were left orphaned,” said Lisa Gemmen. “It is important that the community comes together to grieve.”
Sandy Dorsainvil, the cultural center manager, told attendees that nearly one-third of the country’s population was affected.
“Six years later, scars of the tragedy remain at home and abroad,” she said.
Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said it was fitting for him to attend the anniversary program. Lamothe, who lives in Haiti, said when the quake struck he was visiting South Florida and happened to be eating in a restaurant in Little Haiti with Michel Martelly, the country’s current president.
“It was the worst tragedy in our history,” he said. “It is important for people to stay united and remember those who were lost.”
Lamothe said the tragedy needs to be something Haiti learns from, including building a better infrastructure and developing a stronger emergency response plan.
But some in the crowd were critical of Lamothe and Martelly, saying they did not do enough to help the Haitian people.
“They wasted the money,” he said. “People needed help and they didn’t get it.”
And while concerns about Haiti continue, Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, said Tuesday was really about standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti.
“We want them to know that we will never forget,” she said.