By Mary Lineberger
When the earthquake hit, I had just left work with my co-worker and we stopped off at her house. She went inside to get something, and when she came back out, we got in the car. I inserted the key, but hadn’t turned the ignition yet. All of the sudden the car started rocking like a ship, and she looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing to the car?” She thought I was hitting the gas and the brake at once, she told me later. I looked back at her and yelled “EARTHQUAKE!” and we opened the car doors and ran to the far side of the parking lot away from the building.
Seconds later, her husband came running out of the building with their 2-month-old baby. We all stood in the parking lot looking up at the building to see if it was going to fall. All around us we heard screaming and the crashing down of buildings. The falling of buildings continued for hours. We stayed there at the apartment complex and immediately pulled the mattresses out knowing that we would be sleeping outdoors for several nights.
I was able to walk back and visit my apartment later that night. Many things were toppled over and it was difficult to tell if there was any structural damage. I saw my neighbors in the courtyard—a Haitian family whose daughter had been caught in a schoolroom that collapsed. She and her teacher were the only ones to escape. She came running into my arms when I arrived home, her hair caked with crumbled cement. I told them it wasn’t safe to stay in the house, and that I would be staying down the street with my co-workers.
Every night I sleep in the courtyard of the apartment complex of my co-workers. The women with children were evacuated to the Dominican Republic by the third day. We sleep on mattresses under the stars and listen to the sounds of the city—spontaneous neighborhood camps full of people singing prayers loudly to keep their spirits up, shrieks and screams that come after every aftershock, and the occasional boom of a building that crumbles to the ground.
Every morning we wake at dawn, take bucket baths and head to the office where we coordinate mass distribution efforts. The office is bustling with staff. Most have come back to work even though they have lost their homes and some have lost family members.
The first few days I spent a little time each day consoling my co-worker who lost his wife in a building that fell. I am amazed at the strength of my co-workers. One woman I work with was in the large supermarket that collapsed with her two boys and they escaped after 8 hours. She has been working 14-hour days alongside the rest of us since then. At night we return exhausted but spend the time to share a meal and catch up on the day.
We emptied all the apartments of food, even of those who evacuated and left things behind, and we have paid a woman to make meals for us as she is taking refuge there with her family. She dragged the oven outside from one of the apartments, and uses propane gas to make us rice and meat and potatoes.
My job is taking in all the requests from local groups for aid and all of the international offers for assistance, and streamlining them to the logistics and distribution teams. We have a massive warehouse where we are organizing the goods received and getting them out to people as expediently as possible.
Yesterday we served a camp that has formed on the city’s only golf course, where now thousands of people are taking refuge. The challenge is that we can feed people today, but the needs will continue.
Immediate food and water supplies are crucial, and shelter will continue to be a major challenge as the aftershocks continue to come. Even if a family still has a home standing, they are frightened to return to it.
My neighbors, who I saw in the courtyard of my apartment the first night, I saw again in a camp—living under a tarp with their four young children and 3-week-old baby. I told them I would see them again soon, to which they replied “si Dieu veut,” or “God willing.”
Mary Lineberger is a CRS fellow based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
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