Lia finally got through to us this morning and confirmed what we read in a short email last night, that they are all fine.
When the earthquake hit, she was at the park at the Town Square with five children. Just before 5PM she decided to head back to the orphanage. “That’s when everything turned upside down,” she tells us.
Timing was everything. Had she left five minutes earlier she would have been getting the kids in the car. Her car is no more, as the quake landed the Hotel La Place on top of it. She and the kids walked safely through the streets back home.
Sunset at the Town Square, Sept. ’09
At the orphanage, as the ground shook, bricks flew off the wall in the playroom where some of the children slept. Idoris, a child with Microcephalis got hit, though only has a small lip injury. Another, sleeping child Zael, got hit in the back and has only some minor scratches.
Lia explained that during the quake you couldn’t move, it was like being on a rocking ship in a storm. You could only stand there until it stopped. Once it did the staff got the children out safely and all escaped the quake unharmed.
Their staffs’ families are safe and most of their homes are still standing (though not all).
Everyone in town is sleeping in the street and are not allowed to go back to their houses, even if they are standing because the tremors continue.
Lia went to the Minustah (a UN aid peace keepig group) and asked for a tent to sleep in. They had none to give, so she begged a Scotsman working there for a large piece of plastic and fashioned it into a tent like shelter.
The kids handled the earthquake without panic and are not afraid, except for Sylvaince who told Lia during a tremor “I am afraid of the earth!”. As the tremor’s continued one of the older girls, Youseline threw her hands to the sky and called out in protest ”Jesus, WHAT are you doing?!?”
Reality is harsh. There have been many deaths. Downtown and the beach area destroyed. Lia’s friend Flo had grabbed a sandwich at the Peace of Mind of Hotel. The word is that she forgot her computer upstairs and ran to get it. The earthquake struck while they were in it and she and her companion have died.
The Mayor of Jacmel is driving around in his big yellow Dodge Ram full of people, looking important, but not stopping for anyone. “He must be busy, but I have tried to talk to him. I would like to get information from him, but he won’t stop,” said Lia.
She calmly explains that they are ok with food and water for a week, then both will run out. “Where is the aid? There is no one here helping”.
The back walls of the local hospital have collapsed so the facility is useless. Patients are being treated outside but there are too many people. There are not enough doctors, bandages, pain killer, disinfectants, antibiotics. Patients are seeking out Lia and our staff as we have two nurses. They are helping bandage and treat people as they can.
The orphanage needs to find a new home. For now they may be able to use the nannies’ houses for temporary shelter, and Lia’s house which survived.
The World Food Program (thanks, guys!) has been providing them with food in the past. She hopes this can continue. She needs to get a new car to get around and get supplies, and medication for the kids.
“I don’t need you to send those replacement window switches for my broken car windows”, she jokes. And we are relieved that she can joke.
There is no passage yet from Port au Prince to Jacmel, only by combination of bike and walking. And even then it is daunting.
The only helicopter she has seen was airlifting the Danish ambassador (Jürgen whose house collapsed) — the UN flew him to the Dominican Republic (DR) by helicopter, she tells us. We find out later, from someone here that it was actually Jürgen’s son who hired a helicopter from the DR to rescue his 72 year old dad whose beautiful and palatial house had collapsed.
Lia, Martin, Jürgen’s Groundskeeper, Youseline, Yakime, Sylvaince & Melinda in front of Jürgen’s Villa in September ’09
Pazapa, school for the handicapped, run by a woman named Marika is closed. The kids’ kindergarten is destroyed. “Public schools are closed and will be for a long time,” she tells us. “How will we get these kids educated?” her voice is deep with concern.
Lia, Marika and Jeannette at Pazapa, September 2009
Children in the courtyard of Marika’s Kindergarten, September 2009
In La Vallee (rural area in the hills) there are lots of deaths and no resources for rescue, like in Jacmel where there is no sign of outside help.
They have been completely cut off from the world, so they don’t even know how bad the damage was in Port Au Prince, how big or long the earthquake was, or how much or little attention the world is paying to the disaster.
She is surprised when we tell her of the money and relief efforts pouring in from all over the world. While none of that is helping them in Jacmel, she seems relieved to hear that help is in Port Au Prince.
The recent cold front has made its unusally cold at night, but they do have some blankets. The evenings are almost always in the 70′s. But the sudden change meanst that it is now too cold to go without blankets.
We ask what they need most, “The kids need need shoes and clothes,”she says. We may need cribs after this, though we got a couple out of the house. Things are getting very expensive, and the bank isn’t functioning. She wonders how she will get the money we wired over the day after the disaster.
She starts to recount that they have lost their furniture and dishes, “well, nearly everything”, she realizes. I guess we will buy everything when this is over in a few weeks. From the viewpoint here, it doesn’t seem like this will be over anytime soon…
Lia at first thought a bomb exploded. She was next to the World Trade Center during 9/11 and narrowly escaped. Being in the market place during the earthquake reminded her of that. But, she reacted very calmly, driven by adrenaline. Now she’s amazed at how this has brought out an extreme kindness and patience in her. Haiti is a very frustrating place to live for someone who is used to smooth infrastructure, and functioning systems like in the West.
There was no panic, just a sense of doing what needs to be done.
Some of the downstairs orphanage walls have collapsed and those that remain are full of holes and cracks — opening more with every aftershock. The garden walls may come down too, so they have moved away from the house and garden awaiting more aftershocks today that have been predicted. They sit a safe distance away and wait for it.
Lia braved three trips inside the house and upstairs in between aftershocks and creaking sounds as she dashed in. With help, she took out food, a fridge and stove — she was scared, but braved going in, and even upstairs several times.
The adrenaline has worn off and now she doesn’t have the nerve anymore to go inside and retrieve anything.
There are those still trapped under rubble. One family of seven got trapped under their house. People fed them water and finally managed to cut them out with a concrete saw, but 5 of them had died. The other two are badly injured.
Someone recently asked Lia “Hey, blanc (White), why are you here? After the hurricanes and now the earthquake, you’re leaving, right?”
She is not, her commitment is stronger than ever toward these 13 children, and this country.
People are singing and praying all night and Lia wants to say “can’t we just be quiet?” She is exhausted. The three oldest girls (known as The Triplets) wake up at night too and pray with the other people, loudly singing Hallelujah.
“This sounds strange”, said Lia but we are happy. They are embracing the spirit and bonding that comes with an ad hoc, tight-knit community of almost joyful survivors.