The normally traffic-clogged streets of the Haitian capital turned quiet Wednesday as businesses closed and people walked in solemn processions to prayer services marking the anniversary of the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
Many people wore white, a color associated with mourning in Haiti, and sang hymns as they navigated collapsed buildings and rubble from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that left much of Port-au-Prince in ruins. The government increased the estimated death toll to more than 316,000 people, but it did not explain how it arrived at that number.
To respect its dead, the nation held a minute of silence at 4:53 p.m., the moment the earthquake hit with such ferocity.
Evens Lormil joined mourners in a crowd at the Catholic cathedral, its towering spires and vaulted roof now collapsed, waiting for a memorial Mass next to what was once a prominent landmark in a ragged downtown. The 35-year-old driver of the collective taxis known as tap-taps said his wife and two children were in the countryside north of the capital, still too traumatized by the earthquake to attend the service, or even live in the city.
"I'm here to mourn all the victims," he said before the Mass, which was held in a tent next to the ruined cathedral. "Even though life was bad before the earthquake, it got worse. I am hoping the country can move together and come forward."
With no room inside the tent, Terez Benitot sat barefoot outside the Mass. She lost a cousin in the earthquake, her house collapsed and her husband, a mason, has less work than before the earthquake.
"God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day," the 56-year-old woman said. "Our house collapsed, but we have health and life."
Prayer groups crisscrossed the central Champ de Mars Plaza, thanking God for sparing them from the earthquake. Others took advantage of the day to promote women's rights, opposition to the U.N. force that provides security in Haiti, and other causes.
President Rene Preval and former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a new National Tax Office, where many workers were killed in one of the blows to the public sector that paralyzed the government following the earthquake.
Dignitaries from around the world are in Haiti to mark the anniversary. But they are also facing skepticism from a Haitian public that expected more progress toward reconstruction.