If you haven’t read Part 1 of the story, click here to read it first.
The shaking finally stopped. After a few seconds, Jamie and I agreed that it was an earthquake that had just happened, and that it seemed to be over. We looked around to see everyone still screaming, crying, praying, and now most people holding a cell phone to their ear, trying to get through to their loved ones. A man stood close by outside of Jamie’s window. He had an iPod, and had one of the headphones in his ear, the other ear empty. He noticed our sense of panic (which, of course, everyone shared) and mouthed the words (in kreyol) ‘are you guys okay?’ Jamie put her window down and said ‘Yes, it seems like it, are you?’ He looked around, and shrugged his shoulders. Jamie said ‘What happened? What was that?’ He replied ‘An earthquake. There has not been an earthquake in Haiti for over 200 years, but that was an earthquake.’ We asked ‘Are you sure? An earthquake in Haiti?? Is it possible?’ He said yes. I started to cry. He leaned in to the window and said ‘You don’t have to cry honey, you are alive, and everything is going to be okay. Do you have any place you can go?’ We told him the closest place was our friends house, normally a two minute drive from where we were. He repeated ‘Everything is going to be okay, you don’t have to cry.’ When just a few minutes later traffic started moving, we looked at him and he nodded and said ‘Go, be safe.’
We made the decision to turn off of the main road to take the quickest route to our friends house, even though houses were still falling and the roads were chaotic, many of them completely blocked by fallen poles and debris. We made the right turns, and ended up on a road we knew. During the whole drive, I had two cell phones and was dialing someone at our friends house on one of them, and the nurse at the orphanage on the other one. I could not get through, it wouldn’t even ring. Jamie and I talked the whole drive about what was going on. I commented that no one in the entire country had any control at that moment – it didn’t matter that we had police, UN soldiers, nobody could have known what to do in those first moments.
I felt like I was gasping for every breath, and Jamie remained incredibly calm, driving through narrow spaces, past people missing limbs, one woman missing her face, but screaming for help. A woman banged on our window asking for help, holding a baby in her other hand that had just been born, still connected by the umbilical cord. There was nothing we could do for anyone. Jamie said everyone in our house is dead, our house fell, the kids are under the house. I said no they are not, no it did not, everything is going to be okay, everyone is okay. We couldn’t get through on the phone to find out what was true. Finally, I first got through to the nurse who told me that everyone in our house was alive. The house had not fallen down completely, only a part of an outside area, and everyone was outside in the driveway. I told her to stay there no matter what, that I didn’t know when I would get through by telephone again, or when or how we would get home, but to stay outside until we got there. We were driving down the street right next to our friends house and it seemed like every single house had fallen, dust and dirt filled the air, arms and legs were sticking out of almost every house. Jamie and I both started to cry, feeling like we were going to pass our friends house and see the exact same thing.
It is hard to describe how terrifying that feeling was. A minute later I got through to the friend, he told me everyone in their house was okay, the house was still standing, they were outside, where were we? I told him just a minute away. During the end of the drive, a person in the states sent a text that said ’7.3 magnitude earthquake in port au prince! are you guys okay??’ I wrote back a quick ‘everyone is alive, nothing is okay. dead people everywhere. we are so scared.’ After that text, my prepaid cell phone minutes ran out, and I couldn’t call anyone else. He was able to get through by calling though, and I explained to him what had happened so far, crying to him that we were so scared and didn’t know what to do. I asked him to call my mom and start to get the word out that all the kids at our house were alive and seemed to be ok. It took us about ten more minutes to get there, and we parked the car and got out to stand on the sidewalk.
We all had an excruciating headache. I had some advil in the glove compartment in the car, and passed two out to everyone standing around. We all stood watching the street as the traffic gridlocked, and stayed that way for several hours. About ten minutes after we arrived, every single car was filled over capacity with victims of the quake. People were literally missing arms and legs, hands, feet, scalps, everything you can think of. They seemed to be headed to the hospital, but how? And were the hospitals even standing? At that point, no one had any idea. I was finally able to use my other cell phone to call an American living at the other house of the orphanage, and found out that everyone in all of the houses had survived, and that the houses were all still standing, but badly damaged. We stood in the street for a few hours. The first aftershock set in the feeling of intense and real fear, fear that the worst might be yet to come, that what had happened had changed all of our lives forever and ever, and that we were the lucky ones to even still be alive. The aftershocks came again and again over those few hours.
The traffic had cleared, and a few friends ventured out to see what the main roads looked like, and which streets had been closed. They came back and told us it was going to be impossible to get back to our house, that most of the roads were blocked by UN trucks and troops, or were full of people sitting or sleeping in them. We knew we had to get home, we had to be with the kids, we were so so scared to drive. What if another aftershock came while we were in our car? Why had we survived the quake while in our car, why didn’t it tip over? Would we have the same luck if it happened again? Our friend agreed to come with us and drive the car, so we nervously jumped in and started the drive home. This was the first time we saw what things had fallen, what things had stayed up. We drove on the wrong side of the road sometimes when roads were blocked by cars or people, we took all back roads that we thought would be the safest, and arrived home fairly quickly.
We found all of our kids lying on blankets in the driveway, with their nannies sleeping around them forming a barricade. About half of them were sleeping, the rest sat quietly looking around, some of them cheered when they saw that we were home. We found our nurse in a teary panic because her brother had been in his afternoon college class at 4:53… and he hadn’t come home yet. It was dark, it was night time, there was no electricity, there was nothing we could do but wait until daylight, and of course we had no idea what we would do when it came. But the light of day would at least make the shaking a little less eerie, a little less terrifying.
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