One of the side issues in the immense news coverage has been the treatment of religion, or, rather, the way in which religion has treated the event. The mainstream religions are of course left to the usual nostrums about God's inscrutable purposes and the like, but out in the fringes there are inevitably those who choose to view this catastrophe as God's punishment for various sins committed by the victims or their forefathers.
The redoubtable Pat Robertson, for instance, declared that the Haitians sold their souls to the devil in order to become independent of colonial France (this must have happened a couple of hundred years ago and certainly if it did the Haitians got very poor pay for the sale, given the misery and squalor of their existence even before the earthquake; if this is intended as a version of the Faust story, he certainly got much more out of his bargain than these poor, suffering people).
Perhaps more remarkable under the circumstances is the fact (as reported in The New York Times) that many of the victims themselves have bought in to this, believing that they have been punished for some sin or other and indeed turning now to the churches--more likely the remnants of the churches--for comfort and forgiveness.
These considerations reminded me forcibly of the brilliant short story by Heinrich von Kleist (a German writer and playwright of the late 18th and early 19th century) entitled "The Earthquake in Chile". I often describe this work as the greatest short story ever written, and although I recognize that this point could of course be argued it is certainly one of the greatest and I urge everyone to read it (or reread it) as a matter of urgent priority these days.
Kleist had a difficult, intense and short life (he died in a suicide pact with his lover) but left a handful of stories, one novella and a number of plays as well as letters of remarkable brilliance and intensity. You will know some of the stories from more recent adaptations--"The Marquise of O" was made into a celebrated film by Eric Rohmer (who died just recently) and the brilliant novella Michael Kohlhaas was the basis of the novel Ragtime and of course of the movie and musical play based on that book. The stories and novella are almost always published together and can be found most readily in a Penguin paperback entitled "The Marquise of O and Other Stories".
"The Earthquake in Chile" is actually a love story, set at the time of a monumental earthquake following which the church and powers-that-be tried to restore order in their own way. Reading it is a powerful experience, and one which is unfortunately not at all out of date.