We are all alive and none of us is injured, by a miracle, mere timing kept us alive, a few minutes earlier or later and most of our kids and me would have been dead. But………. we are homeless, The orphanage is still standing, but totally unsafe.
A recap of Tuesday 12 January 2010:
At 4 PM me and Eliane, 1 of our nannies had taken 5 of our kids: Youseline, Estania, Melinda, Yakime, Luckson and Chidlie our little neighbor friend to the playground at La Place (townsquare). The kids were having a great time.
At around 5 PM I was just about to wrap up all the kids to go back home, when suddenly I felt like I was standing on a rocking boat. I could not move, I could hardly stay standing up, and in front of me all the kids are calling out my name in panic Lia, Lia……
The whole world was spinning, all the buildings around La Place were swinging and above Hotel de la Place a huge cloud of smoke and dust. There were screams everywhere, and lots of noise from buildings collapsing. The air was filled with dust, and then I saw the roof ornament of the school next to Hotel de la Place,( see the green building in the photograph below), falling down right on top of my car.
We are sooo lucky we were not yet sitting in the car, we all would have been dead.
The shock lasted for quite a while, it felt like many, many minutes. Then when it felt like it was over, Eliane and I gathered the kids, and they were all okay. We moved to the middle of town-square, out of reach of anything that could possibly fall down on us and sat down on the ground to re-group.
Melinda started praying, threw her hands up to the sky and said: “Jezu Jezu, Kisa ou fe?” Jesus, Jesus, what are you doing?
Within minutes townsquare was filled with people, a lot of people where hurt, crying, screaming: my child died, my wife died, My house has collapsed……etc etc lots of people were covered with dust. Our kids were scared but did not freak out or anything, they were very brave, they did not even cry.
They just wanted to go home, and so did Eliane and I.
Since my car was completely damaged by the falling piece of the school, and the streets were filled with debris anyway we just walked back home. All hand in hand with Eliane and me, we walked back home as fast as we could. The phone-system was not working at all, or maybe overloaded and we feared the worst for the rest of our kids and the orphanage itself. Everybody was walking in the streets, there were many cars covered with pieces of fallen buildings, many injured people in the street, dust everywhere, but our kids kept their courage, while we had to climb over parts of fallen buildings to get home.
Yakime and Luckson are only 4 years old, and the girls 7, 8 and 9. On our way home we ran into Mona, Chidlie’s mother who had come running down to find us, totally in tears, without shoes, and her blouse hanging open. The buttons had fallen off as she had pushed her way through a sea of people in the street, coming to find her child. She was sooo relieved when she found her 6 year old daughter was unharmed.
She did tell us that our other kids were okay, but that our home had taken a lot of damage. That sped up our already very fast pace. When we took the last turn to turn into our street a lot of people started screaming:” Men Lia, men timoun-yo, ou anfonm?, nou kwe ou te mouri! Men ou pa gen machin anko?” “There’s is Lia, there are the kids, are you okay? we thought you had died , you don’t have a car anymore?”
To my great relieve I saw our house still standing up.
I found Frantz, our director and all the other kids in the garden with 2 of our nannies. All very shaken up and very happy to see us.
While we were at the park, this is what had happened at home:
At the time of the quake most of our little ones, 8 in total, 2 of them (Idoris and Martin),severely handicapped, the youngest, Zael almost 2, the oldest Martin (handicapped) almost 4, were sleeping in the playroom. Our other nanny Magalie and our nurse Claudette were sitting with them inside. Frantz happened to be just in front of the front-porch in the garden. Frantz was unable to move and go inside at first to get the kids out. Magalie and Claudette were trying to come outside with some of the kids, but could not move either.
Almost immediately, they told me, big parts of the inner-walls in the playroom were falling down. Some pieces fell right on Idoris, (our little boy who has microcephalia) who was sleeping in his crib. By miracle only his upper lip was cut. Sylvaince, who just turned 3 on January 2nd, was sleeping on a pillow in the back playroom and huge pieces of center-block had fallen on him, below you will see a photograph of the pillow with his silhouette still on it. By miracle he too was unharmed.
As soon as they were able to move, while the quake was still going on, Magalie and Claudette started handing our kids over the front-porch fence to Frantz who sat them down all the way at the end of our front yard.
By now it was about 6.20 PM and completely dark. No electricity, no streetlights and a new moon, so a very dark night. Since it felt quiet as far as aftershocks was concerned I ran inside the playroom to get all the play pillows out, and asked Frantz to help me carry the 2 cribs we have in there outside as well. I ran into our little clinic to get all our medication out, 5 of our kids are HIV+ and on ARV medication, that they take twice a day, at 8 AM and 8 PM. Missing their medication is not an option.
Then I said a little prayer and went upstairs to get the 3 single mattresses from the girls beds and threw them down over the balcony. I grabbed as many sheets and blankets as I could, so we could prepare a huge bed for our kids for the night. Then I went into our office upstairs and found everything on the floor. Lots of stuff had fallen down from the shelves on top of my computer, but luckily she was not damaged. Frantz came upstairs to help me collecting our valuables, like our 2 petty-cash boxes and our bank book.
Then we felt some aftershock and ran downstairs.
As soon as all our kids were fed and situated in the big bed for the night, Frantz and I regrouped together on what to do. We did not really know what was going on, or what was still to come at this point. Phones were still not working.
I do have this hidden tsunami-fear for the last few years, after the last tsunami hit, because at the time it was said that the next one most likely would happen in the Caribbean. If that was the case we figured that it would be best to be right where we were, because we live far enough from the sea, on much higher ground than downtown Jakmel.
On our way walking home I had heard a lot of people saying that it was said to best go to the local airport, right next to the Minustah/UN base. But that airport is on very low ground, very close to the sea, so in case of a tsunami I would not want to be at that location at all. And besides, with 13 little kids, no car, streets full of debris on a very dark night we figured that the best thing to do was just to stay right there.
By now it was about 7.30 PM and I decided to go down the hill to check my own house, and find some info on what was going on, what was still to come maybe. I found my house to be fine, no cracks in the wall at all, only stuff inside that had fallen down, some cups and glasses broken. I guess my landlord had not been cheap with cement while building this house.
Everybody in my street was sitting in the middle of the street, singing, praying. Improvising beds to spend the night outside. Around 8.30 PM a lot of aftershocks occurred again. I sat down in the middle of the street with all my neighbors for quite some time.
I wanted to go back up the hill to the orphanage to be with my kids, but fear of more shocks, the darkness, the bad roads, and none of my neighbors willing to accompany me up the hill kept me sitting in the street.
Around 11.30 PM a friend of mine came looking for me, to see if I was okay and he was willing to walk back up with me, so that I could spend the night with the kids. It was a very freaky walk that normally would take about 10 minutes, but now it took us more than an hour, because every time we felt a shock we sat down on the ground immediately, and then waited some time before we had the courage to continue our walk. We arrived back at the orphanage around 2 AM. I had carried a piece of carpet I happened to have at home to sleep on.
From time to time there were more after shocks during the rest of the night, and the air was filled with the sounds of Voodoo drums, people praying and singing. We did not really sleep at all. It was also a very, very cold night, because there has been a Northern chill wind for the last 2 weeks.
Wednesday 13 January 2010:
At 5.30 AM we carried our stove and refrigerator out of the kitchen and put it in the garden under the laundry roof, so that we would be able to prepare food for our kids. Luckily the day before we had just refilled all our drinking-water gallons, so we carried them out as well.
For the next few days we have water to drink.
At 6 AM Elmas, one of our cooks came to work. I was pleasantly surprised. At this point we did not know yet if any of our staff was hurt or killed, or had lost their home. Today saturday I can tell you that all our staff is fine, nobody is hurt, except for Rochel, our night security guy. He was at a barber shop at the time of the quake and a panic had broken out when everybody tried to get out at the same time. He had fallen on the floor in front of the door and all the other guys that were inside had walked right over him. He is bruised pretty badly, both his hands, feet and legs are swollen and hurting. He came to see us for the first time on thursday.
Some of our staff have severely damaged houses, and 2 of them lost their home completely.
But all of our staff has been GREAT, everybody has come to work. 2 of our nannies and 1 of our nurses have moved into the tent with us, since they live so close and everybody has to sleep outside anyway, now we are all sleeping together.
We are sharing our tent with lots of neighbors, and some people that are wounded have come to us as well to be treated by our 2 nurses, since at the hospital they were not finding help. The hospital has collapsed, there are some doctors, and they are doing what they can, but there are so many wounded people that they can not help them all. They don’t have enough beds, or medication, and other medical material, gaze alcohol, betadine, painkillers etc etc.
We have lend one of our beds to Wilson, a neighbor who’s hand is severely injured, bones sticking out, and he lives with us in the tent as well. At 7.30 Am I went down into Jakmel to see the damage, and to try to find out as much as I could about friends, schools etc and the status of the quake.
Walking all over town was very devastating, to see all the collapsed buildings, to learn that some of my friends have died, some others are missing…………..3 schools that were full of students had totally pancaked down, some people still alive inside……………………..I walked all the way to the airport. A lot of people had spend the night there, Minustah had set up 3 big white tents, and were handing out water. But water only, no food!!
I found some of my friends there being alive, lots of personal stories were being shared, lots of loss of life, belongings, homes. I then went on to the Minustah/UN military base to ask for help in the form of a tent. The commandant, a friend of our orphanage, he had just visited us the sunday before and given us a watertruck, and lots of yoghurt, as they do for us almost every week, was sooo sorry but did not have a tent to give us. He said, I want to help you, but we have no materials, we only have 3 tents and they are set up on the airport. I kept pushing on, “you do not have anything at all to help me, a huge piece of plastic maybe? “He said no, I am very sorry.
I was not going to leave this UN base empty handed.
I kept pushing just till I got through to another department within this base, and got to speak with a Scotsman named Angus. He made the military guys surge the whole base for at least a huge piece of plastic and rope, and they found us exactly that.
They gave me a ride back into town, and I ran up the hill back to the orphanage. Together with Frantz and 2 friends of mine we sat up a tent, just with the plastic and some robe, in our front yard as far away from the house, so the kids would have shelter from the by now very hot sun.
Our kids were thrilled with there new home, they are definitely having the experience of their lives. Then around 3.30 PM we felt again more shocks, and I decided to just move the tent all the way in the street behind our front gate.
We don’t know if our building is going to come down.
But it is very possible if these aftershocks continue. And a big building like this one, you don’t know how it is going to fall. We made a new type of tent/overhead in the street and are sharing that now with many neighbors who do not have any type of shelter at all.
On Thursday morning I have made many trips inside with the help of Ambroise, our assistant director, and recovered a lot more of our belongings, we also moved our make-shift kitchen all the way to the front, far away from the building in case it falls.
Saturday morning I have send Frantz, our director to PaP to go see his wife Ann. She is fine, their home has some cracked walls and inside a lot of broken things, but she is okay. The first 2 days were devastating for Frantz, because he was not able to find his wife on the phone untill thursday or have any info if she was okay or not.
Frantz has been amazing in handling this difficult situation with me and making sure the kids are fine, and very well taken care of and save. And so I think it is essential for his well-being to go and re-unite with his wife for 2 days, also that will give him more strength to handle our difficult future to come.
The road to PaP is blocked at St Etienne, motor bikes do go to PaP and back, but at that point they need to walk over the side with the bike in hand. See last picture below, the side of the mountain has totally covered the road for a long lenght.
The kindergarten Claire Fontaine, the school of Yakime, Luckson, Kettia and Sylvaince is still standing but very badly damaged. see pics below The little blue chair you see next to the pink chair on the first level where the wall has fallen down is Yakime’s chair.
Today Saturday is the first day that any help has come in.
This morning there were 5 helicopters, they came with dogs and material to find survivors at the school Trinité which has pancaked down with many students inside, and some of them are still alive……………
You can see full coverage of this on our sidebar and check out the website of Cine institute: http://www.cineinstitute.com/
The first time I was able to get in touch with anyone was Friday morning, I spoke with my mother, great reliefe and with Martin, our sponsor. Before that, it was impossible to call, by now it is possible to get through when you persist a lot, and somehow it is easier to call abroad than within Haiti. It is also for free, thank you Digicel. But the system is still overloaded. It is not easy to find a place with electricity, I went to the radio station, because they are running a generator and they are letting me plug-in in one of their outlets. Luckily I have my own portable internet box thanks to Martin, he donated that to us on his last visit in Sept 2009. And I am sitting in a little corner to finally send this e-mail out to you all.
Thank you all for the support, the love, the prayers, all the e-mails you have send me, all the effort that is out there to find out if we were okay in my address below you will find the link to our blog, and there you can learn more about this little orphanage and the 13 amazing kids we are taking care of.
You can also donate on this blog. Obviously we will need a lot of support to rebuild a new home for our kids. You can use this link or any of the yellow “donate” buttons you see. You will be taken to a PayPal page, you can use your PayPal account OR with major credit or debit card.
If you prefer to send a check, please send it to our administrative address:
1291 Will Geer Road
Topanga, California 90290
We Can Build An Orphanage is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. All contributions are tax-deductible. Our EIN (tax id number) is: 20-8660929