(day 1 – Tuesday)
Last night a massive earthquake hit Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, where I am visiting our adoptive son. I am still reeling. The reports I’ve heard are saying it was a 7.4. I’m finding that hard to believe, having been through many an earthquake in my day living in California. It felt like nothing I have ever experienced.
At about 5pm, we were getting ready to head out for dinner. I had Karis strapped in her infant car seat, and Keanan was playing in the backyard. I ran upstairs to grab my purse. On the way down the stairs, the house started shaking violently. It was shaking so hard that I had to grab on to the railing to make it down. The ground was pitching and tiles were flying off the walls. I could see cracks forming in the walls, and it was difficult to even see from shaking. It sounded as if a helicopter was landing on top of the house. I made it down the stairs, ran to grab the carseat, and then ran outside, where the shaking continued. Outside we could hear people screaming, and though it was less than a minute, it felt like an eternity. The people in the streets were panicking, and we saw two women in towels, who must have run from the shower.
It’s startling what goes through your mind at a time like that. My first thought was getting Karis to safety, which I knew would be outside. Thank God I was not holding her as I went down the stairway. I was also scrambling trying to figure out what was going on. The shaking and noise was so extreme that I thought for sure it could not be an earthquake. I have never heard of Haiti being hit with an earthquake, so I was assuming something else was going on. I thought maybe the island was being bombed. I also had some thoughts about Armageddon – it felt like a disaster movie. By the time I got outside I thought the ground might even open up . . . that’s how hard it was shaking. Mostly, I just knew that it was bad, and I was very scared. The pendant lights in the house were swinging, and one fell down. The kitchen cabinets lost all their contents, and there was glass everywhere. Dressers, lamps, pictures . . . all on the floor. A table even collapsed.
Once we got outside, those of us in the house gathered and made sure everyone was okay. About ten minutes later, another earthquake. This was not as bad as the first, but still worse than any I’ve been through. These aftershocks continued through the night. I’m told at least 13 of them measured above a 4. It felt like they were coming every 20-30 minutes for a while. We were all pretty traumatized by the first quake, but the continuing shaking was extremely stressful. It felt like it would never end, and it was hard to feel safe no matter where we went. We gathered in front of the house so that we were clear of anything that could crumble. I tried to compose myself so that we wouldn’t freak out the kids any further, but it was difficult. I was fighting back tears with each new tremor, and wondering when it would stop and how we would get through the night.
We sat outside for a long time, and people stopped by to check in. We started getting a clearer picture of the devastation, and of how fortunate we had been. Buildings in Haiti do not need permits, and many are not structurally sound. Even in the nicer neighborhood we were in, many houses caved in. John McHoul stopped by to report that all of the kids in both orphanages were okay, which was a huge relief. Troy Livesay went out several times to check on others – you can follow his twitter feed at www.twitter.com/troylivesay. I think his tweets have been quoted on every major news source because it’s one of the few ways people can get information directly from Haiti, since phones and internet are down throughout the city. He witnessed several hillside neighborhoods where every house had buckled. There were many people looking for loved ones in collapsed houses. They checked on a few other children’s homes . I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know all the details, and I’m guessing people are searching any way they can. I know that Three Angels children’s home is okay, as is Maison de Lumiere. I know that there are other people missing, and that Troy just went out to search for some other families. All day long
Troy and Tara have been receiving emails from people in the states wondering about loved ones. It has been very heavy. Thankfully some of them were found alive. I know that there are many, many people in this city who did not survive. The nation’s palace has collapsed, as did many major buildings. This is a devastating loss and my heart is heavy for so many families who are unsure right now.
I am very cognizant of how fortunate we are, and how narrowly we missed disaster by being in the right kind of building. It is heady to think that I owe my life right now to a Haitian contractor who didn’t cut corners during construction. I am still walking around in a daze. The big tremors have subsided at least for a bit – the last one was several hours ago. But we are still feeling a lot of intermittent shaking. It’s so unsettling. Last night was HARD. We debated sleeping outside because we were all so scared. I ended up sleeping on the bottom floor and a couple times grabbed Karis and ran to the door because the shaking was so bad.
Keanan is still with me, and seems unfazed by the whole thing. I’m sure I appear very stressed and I’m trying to make the best of this time with him. At the same time, I am desperate to get home and miss my husband and family terribly. I can’t wait to hug my kids.
I am also feeling stressed because Karis is sick. She’s been vomiting a lot, and it doesn’t seem like anything major, but I would just like to be back in the states in case in gets worse. I was already debating leaving early because she is sick, and now there is no way of getting any medical treatment. Hopefully (probably) she is fine and just has a stomach bug. Troy and some of the other Heartline staff spent a good part of the night at a makeshift clinic treating the injured. There are so many seriously wounded. I really have no way of knowing, but from the little I’ve seen I think the impact on Port-Au-Prince will be similar to the impact Katrina had on New Orleans. However, the country of Haiti has absolutely no resources to cope with something like this. People in the states with access to the news and internet probably have more information than we do. The city electricity is out and probably will be for some time. The Livesays are worried there may be diesel shortages following, and there is certainly not enough hospital beds to treat the sick.
I have tickets to fly out tomorrow but I don’t know if the airport will be operating (update – AA flights cancelled). I’m sure it will be a mob scene once it opens. Another fear that many have expressed is the tendency for things like this in Haiti to result in rioting or looting. I’m hoping that does not happen but I know that there will be many people angry people who do things out of desperation, as well as many fighting to leave the country in the next few days. Ironically, the first time I visited Haiti was in 1992, during a political coup d’état, and there was a similar scene as everyone tried to leave the country. I’m not looking forward to repeating that.
So far, I’ve been seeing people coming together. Last night about 200 people in this neighborhood gathered in a large field, and I could hear them singing worship songs as I tried to sleep. At every tremor, the singing got louder. We also heard that some streets shut down lanes of traffic to allow people to sleep away from buildings. As we walked this morning, it seemed like most people were outside, wanting to avoid being near anything that could fall or crumble. I know that the hospitals are in bad shape and that some doctors and nurses left their shifts, but I also know that other doctors have been setting up clinics.
I am exhausted. I haven’t showered since Monday morning and haven’t slept much since before the half-marathon. I’m trying to keep my perspective and remain grateful despite the circumstances. This is a rattling experience for me but it has been disastrous for many.
Please pray for the people of Haiti, and for the many families who will be grieving their loss at this time.