‘All of it is lost.’ Fire destroys Haiti radio station, leaving its future uncertain

Miami Herald, by Jacqueline Charles, December 22, 2018


A fire destroyed a respected Haiti radio station Friday as frantic employees and guests tried to put the flames out with buckets of water while firefighters shouted at one another and struggled to bring the fire under control.

(Photo Credit:  A fire gutted Radio Kiskeya in Haiti the blaze started at a neighboring house on Friday, days before Christmas. Courtesy of Harold Isaac)

Radio Kiskeya was live on the air when guests attending a show being broadcast from its back yard began smelling smoke around 9:30 p.m. and saw that the house next door in the Boisverna section of Port-au-Prince was on fire. Fearing that the flames would soon spread to the station’s two-story gingerbread construction, radio employees issued an on-air plea for help while desperately trying to get in contact with the Port-au-Prince fire department.

Fire trucks eventually responded, but they were from Delmas, the city next door. Ill-equipped to deal with the raging flames, firefighters barked orders at one another, struggled with fire hoses and eventually had to use water from the radio station’s tanks, witnesses on the scene said.

The fire had not only spread from the house to the radio station but it destroyed both the bottom and top floors, the roof and the offices of station co-owners and journalists Liliane Pierre-Paul and Marvel Dandin. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported.

“Everything happened right before my eyes,” Pierre-Paul, who was in her station’s back yard when the fire started, told the Miami Herald. “I powerlessly witnessed the destruction of a lifetime‘s worth of work; all of it is lost.”

Pierre-Paul’s second-floor office was her own personal archives, flooded with awards, documents and the many portraits loyal and grateful listeners had painted of her over the years in a show of gratitude.

A renowned Haitian journalist known for her no-nonsense demeanor and champion of democracy and press freedom in Haiti, Pierre-Paul is distraught. The station, like others in Haiti where insurance is difficult to come by, is not insured. Pierre-Paul said she does not yet know what she and Dandin will do — what the fire didn’t destroy, water did. Remarking on the slow response from Port-au-Prince’s firefighters’ and the inability of those from Delmas to save the station despite their good intentions, Pierre-Paul said: “There is no State in Haiti.”

Pierre-Paul, Dandin and the late Sonny Bastien launched Radio Kiskeya on May 7, 1994, three years after the trio parted ways with another journalist, Jean Leopold Dominique, the owner of Radio-Haiti Inter, over a labor dispute.

Since then, the station has become a mainstay for news in Haiti with Pierre-Paul and Dandin developing reputations as vocal critics of Haitian government corruption, ineptness and waste. They have also sought to promote a high standard of journalism ethics in a country where the press is often for sale.

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