Local Resident Recounts Coping With Earthquake in Haiti
It was early that Tuesday (January 12) morning that my mother had been pacing back and forth to get ready for morning mass at the St. Anthony’s church up in the hills. And she had asked me to tag along with her, not being the kind to get up early for such things on a weekday. I would’ve said no, but since we were in another country I was sort of worried about leaving my mother to wander around anywhere else that I knew nowhere about. I had become as overprotective as she has always been on me, so I went with her.
After it was all done, my mother decided to walk the streets through the very sights that would capture many of the tourists’ eyes, like the parks, the soccer stadium, the White House and so on. It was like seeing the streets and amusements of Port-au-Prince for the last time. Returning home from our long walk, I went back to bed feeling tired. My mother, knowing that I wouldn’t want to get up from resting to open the door, took the keys with her across from the house, but the doors in Port-au-Prince are two-way doors — you need keys to close it from the in and outside, so the doors that led to the balcony had been shut, but not locked. Since her friends had come in and out of the apartment so much to retrieve their things, they locked it all the way, so I was left to get out through the second door that led to the family’s dining room.
Finally, waking up out of the bedroom, and entering the dining room, I went up to the hallway that would take me downstairs only to find that this door was also locked. So I went back upstairs to find the other ways out from the many doors on the second floor that led to the balcony. But they too were all locked. I walked back and forth just to find other ways of exiting, but none whatsoever came.
I had already been locked in the house for an hour before any trouble occurred. I tried to pick up the phone and call, but it seemed to have already been disabled. When I had given up pacing, I sat down on the living room couch and turned on my PSP (PlayStation Portable)when suddenly it shut itself off and I heard a noise and the floor beneath me began to shake. Usually I would’ve thought it was a water truck passing by the neighborhood because the loud noises they made did have the effect of shaking the walls a little. But what gave me a second opinion was the floor beneath me that felt like it was vibrating. I stood up and gave it a little thought, and I told myself it was an earthquake. To be honest I wasn’t scared. There had been a mini earthquake that had taken place in Haiti in June of 2006. It wasn’t serious—it felt like the vibration of a car when it’s being turned on, lasting about long enough to make my bed turn sideways. It hadn’t been serious enough to startle anyone, so there really was no need for panic, just to simply smile in curiosity. But this had been a much different thing than the other date, because as I stood my ground in the living room center, I saw the walls begin to crack and the floor trembled violently and the floor beside me began to break and the furniture moved back and forth. I didn’t panic, I simply said in my mind “God I know I wasn’t created on this earth to die like this, so I am not going to die today.” Then, after those thoughts, the door on the other side of the living room wall to the balcony, being locked from top to bottom just BURST open and then after the entire second floor came crashing down on the first I had to wait for it all to end before I was to get out. So I walked slowly out of the room to the other side of the wall, through the hallway, into the kitchen and out of the door, and onto the balcony that was now the same height as the front gate. Hopping off the railings to the front yard, which was as it was before, but turning to the house the first floor was and is crushed by the second, which still stands with very little damage done from one’s point of view from the outside. I walked out of the gate in fury rather than fear, due to the fact that I had been locked in my home alone. While all were outside running around panicking, I was trapped inside. My mother and my grandmother had been in another house across from her very own that she had built recently, which was in perfect shape—all that fell were its shelves. And we repeat: if it hadn’t been built, then my grandmother would be sitting on the first floor porch. My other grandparents’ house, which was about three stories high, had fallen completely to the ground and is now flat along with the neighbors’ houses who reside next door. My father, who had been alone in the house at the time, had jumped from the balcony as it came down and landed on his feet, and walked a short distance to my mother and I. But as I walked the streets, I saw that many merchants had lost their lives in the marketplaces, many professors and students had been crushed by the falling of the building walls and floors during after-school studies. Dozens of houses had fallen to the ground. If the homes were not crushed, then its walls were destroyed, and many houses that lost everything in their rear were now leaning backwards. There are houses that still stand, many houses that haven’t been affected, but still no one dares to enter their own homes for very long.
After the tragedy, even though there were many people that weren’t affected, people — myself included — decided to stay and sleep in the sidewalks and grass, in schoolyards and away from any walls to avoid any more danger.
For a week, I spent going through the homeless experience, and I must say it is neither a happy nor easy experience, but from that it brought the neighborhood people together. Waking up from the first night of the shaky face of reality, it seemed that there were several houses that had not fallen, simply standing their ground. Just the walls in the yards were cracked and crushed into the streets, and their owners had food stored inside as well, which they too came to cook outside with the women. Then, after the women would take turns each day on who would cook for the people who camped outside with us during our homeless experience. Luckily for me, the second floor which I had been standing in had not been crushed, simply the floors were broken up making it much difficult to walk in.
Plenty of food was found in the kitchen section, so from there on my mother and aunt had been able to make food for us all to eat. Best of all, there was enough for more than just the household, so the ladies were able to cook for all who were found resting on the sidewalk and the grassy area that was large enough to maintain over forty. Every day, it seemed we had a picnic in that area. Several people who walked by that were headed out of Port au Prince and into their own hometowns, were stopped and handed a meal on a paper plate to have a quick taste of something before they were to continue the long walk they were to have to themselves, because if the journey out of Port au Prince on wheels is a long ride, then their journey on foot would surely drain the strength out of them before long.
I look at it as punishment to all those who hold grudges against one another. This was clearly a punishment to end it all and bring the nation together.
If all should be rebuilt, then we must rebuild it together as one, instead of being rivals and having competition on whose house is better built and has better taste to it. Let it be there to live in, not compete with. That’s why it crushed in the first place. Now it’s your chance to rebuild it out of companionship than in rivalry. In front of GOD, it’s all just dirt.
It’s just terrible to walk the streets and have to see the arms of others like yourself hanging out from beneath the walls of their own property, or the young children who sit beside their dying parents who were all they had in this life. At this early point of the tragedy, money was of no good use, being already homeless, they were lost in the world with no one to turn to.
Editor’s note: We are grateful to Mr. Honore for his touching story of his time in the horrors of the earthquake.