This week and next week I’m sharing with you on our blog my personal recount of the earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010. I wrote this account a few days after the earthquake, thinking that one day I may want to share my thoughts and activities from that horrific day. That time has come. This week the country of Haiti remembers the earthquake that destroyed their country just 3 years ago. The HFF family is remembering too, and taking stock of the many ways that from the ashes of the earthquake, has come so much HOPE. My account has moments that create graphic images and while editing the account for this newsletter, I got chills while I was also moved to tears. I’m telling this story to honor the lives of the many that were lost that day. We continue our work to make Haiti a better place in their memory. Thank you for reading and remembering with me.
Post by Ali McMutrie
January 12th was a weird day from start to finish. It started weird, then just got weirder and weirder. The weirdest part taking place at approximately 4:53 P.M.
It was a Tuesday. Jamie had just returned from ‘Christmas Break’ in Pittsburgh on Sunday. We originally planned for our new pre-school teacher to start on Monday the 11th, but ended up pushing that to Tuesday so that Jamie and I had a chance to catch up on Monday. I don’t really remember what we did Monday. There was an adoptive family visiting their daughter, so we had dinner with them on Monday night. We talked a lot about what Jamie and I wanted to see happen in the future and our worries about continuing our work.
We went home, and Jamie and I traded beds for the night, having no idea it would be the last night we could have slept in our own beds in that house… ever.
The next morning was insanely hectic. As I said, the new pre-school teacher started teaching 8 of our two and three year olds. Jamie had bought tons of new school supplies in Pittsburgh using money someone donated for that specific use, so we spent about an hour showing the teacher what everything was and how to use the supplies. She only stayed for a few hours because we also had scheduled for a volunteer nurse to come give vaccinations to all of our kids. There was a catch with that nurse – she didn’t know that Americans ran the orphanage, and it had to stay that way. I snuck out of the house to take the adoptive family from their hotel to the airport, and Jamie stayed hiding in our bedroom while our nurse and the volunteer nurse gave vaccines to all the kids.
I came home mid-afternoon, probably around 3:30. I remember thinking in the car how much Jamie and I had been separate lately – she spent three weeks in Pittsburgh, and since she came back we had barely seen each other because we were so busy that we had to split up. I was feeling crummy, I think I had come down with strep throat. I laid down on the bed and told Jamie I really didn’t want to go to MegaMart because I was so sick, but we had already put off shopping for a few too many days, only had enough diapers for about 5 more days, and were pretty much out of all other supplies. I agreed we should go, but Jamie asked the nurse to look at my throat before we left and write a prescription for an antibiotic so I could get it while we were out. Jamie said to her ‘Will you look at Ali’s throat? I think she needs an antibiotic’.
We sat in our room waiting for about 30 minutes, and finally the nurse knocked on the door. It was so unlike her to take so long, and I was just getting up to ask her if she could PLEASE come look at it. Turns out there was a misunderstanding, she had gone to check on baby Ali’s throat, and saw that it was fine so she didn’t come tell us. She didn’t realize Jamie was talking about me. We laughed, she looked at my throat, wrote a prescription, and Jamie and I got in the car to head to MegaMart. It was probably about 4:40.
As we turned the corner out of our driveway, I made a comment that Haiti was so different from when we first moved there in 2006. Specifically I was talking about the poverty that you just see all around you, there seemed to be less bare footed kids running around, and less women carrying babies made of skin and bones. These problems certainly still existed, but much less than just a few years before. We also talked about how security had improved so much, and we felt so safe doing almost anything we wanted to do. Why weren’t people knocking on our door asking us to take their children every day? It had slowed to just a few times per month.
I was sprawled across the seat being a big baby about my sore throat, Jamie was driving. Traffic was pretty bad, as it always is on the main road, Delmas, at that time of day. We were moving pretty slow, maybe 15 MPH, when we felt a huge jolt from behind. I snapped my head around to see what kind of car had run into us, but one hadn’t, and by the time I turned my head back around, the shaking had begun. All traffic had stopped by then, and the car was shaking violently.
We were stopped in front of a big department store, which stood behind a big cement wall. It was standing there like it did any other day, and about 5 seconds after the shaking started, it was gone. It didn’t even raise a cloud of dust, just went down in a matter of seconds. Human beings were covering every square inch of the sidewalk and street and had absolutely no control of their bodies, people were falling into our car, then just as quickly falling away from them into others. A few people gathered their belongings that they had been selling as street vendors and ran, other people knelt to the ground trying not to fall.
Everyone though, ever single person, had their hands in the air praying to God, screaming to God. The shaking is said to have lasted only 45 seconds. Jamie and I talked about so many things in those seconds. Jamie asked who would bomb Haiti? I asked why we always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, thinking we were caught in the middle of a riot (before the shaking made sense, it just seemed like people were causing our car to shake).
We looked at the sky for airplanes dropping bombs, but the sky was completely blue, the bright orange sun just starting to set. I told Jamie to drive away, she screamed back at me that she couldn’t go forward, there wasn’t enough space to get around the car in front of us. I looked at cars all around us to see if people were staying in their cars or running away, convinced that we were not safe inside of our car, and that we should run. Jamie (smartly) insisted that no, we should stay in the car. We couldn’t just abandon our car and run, where would we even go?
Everything was falling around us, no place was safe. The feeling of the shaking is inexplicable. I tried to focus my eyes on something in front of me, but it was impossible. The concrete road looked like the waves of an ocean. I finally was able to focus on a woman standing in the road, grabbing the middle of the road barrier when it ‘waved’ up on one side of her then grabbing the concrete of the road when it waved up on the other side. Click Here to Read Part 2 of Ali’s Story
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