FILE: Women walk down a devastated street past the devastation caused by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, in Haiti. (AP)
Somber Haitians gathered early on Monday to remember the devastating January 2010 earthquake that left much of the capital and surrounding area in ruins in one of the worst natural disasters of modern times.
Hundreds of people, most of the men in dark suits and the women in white dresses, attended a Catholic Mass just after dawn at a new church built alongside the ruined National Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"This is the anniversary of the day I can never forget," Gladys Lambard, who lost her husband and sister in the earthquake, said as she walked into the church arm-in-arm with her 14-year-old daughter. "The sadness of that day marked me forever."
President Michel Martelly and other dignitaries were presiding over a ceremony at a mass grave on the northern outskirts of the capital where authorities quickly buried thousands of people in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
The earthquake struck just before 5 p.m., collapsing poorly constructed concrete buildings by the tens of thousands in a densely populated city. The government later said more than 300,000 people were killed but the exact toll is unknown because there was no systematic effort to count bodies amid the chaos and destruction.
Following the earthquake, teams poured in from around the world to try to rescue people trapped in rubble and treat vast numbers of people wounded in the disaster.
Carine Joiceus, a 44-year-old customs agency worker who attended the memorial Mass, had to have her arm amputated. She has since had two children and says she has learned to live with her injury.
"I remember just crying the first year after it happened," Joiceus said. "But since then, I'm moving ahead with my life and thinking of the future. "
For the country as a whole, the recovery has been uneven.
The United Nations says Haiti has received more than 80 percent of about $12.45 billion pledged by more than 50 countries and multilateral agencies since the disaster, a combination of humanitarian assistance, recovery aid and disaster relief. The capital is awash in new construction and the number of people in the cramped shantytowns and tent camps has dropped from around 1.5 million after the quake to around 80,000.
But Haiti also remains a desperately poor country facing many of the same challenges as before the earthquake. The World Banks says more than 6 million out of roughly 10.4 million inhabitants live under the national poverty line of $2.44 per day. Meanwhile, a political standoff between Martelly and parliament that has delayed legislative elections threatens to undermine the country's political stability.