Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

February 18th, 2010 7:43 PM

Survival Stories

Everyone in Haiti knows many amazing stories about those who survived the earthquake, and at least an equal number of horror stories about those who didn’t. Here are a few from those who survived.

Bishop André Pierre starts our conversation this way:

“How are you doing, Father André?”

“Oh, fine. We’re alive and well.”

“Wait, I thought you lost a lot of the priests and seminarians in your community.”

“Many. Many. Many.”

Then he recounts what happened to him on afternoon of January 12. “I was on my way to a meeting with Archbishop Miot and someone else in the Port-au-Prince Cathedral. I waved to the archbishop up on the gallery from below and then I started running up the stairs. Someone stopped me to say, ‘Oh hey, I haven’t gotten to wish you happy new year yet.’ That greeting saved my life, because at that second everything went black. I thought I was having a heart attack. I shifted to the left, I shifted to the right, and then I went up in the air. I said, ‘Oh no, it’s an earthquake.’

“Then the building fell on top of me. I said, ‘André, move.’ I rolled and crawled. I couldn’t see anything; it was black. It was like being under water except it was earth. I ate so much dirt I can’t tell you. It took me about 45 minutes to get out.

“You couldn’t see my clothes, my face, anything – I was just one solid mass of earth. Someone came by to wipe my face off and said, ‘Oh, it’s you.’

“There were wounded people everywhere. I shouted ‘Bring the wounded.’ I couldn’t open the front door of my car – the car was damaged - but I got in through the back. We loaded people up, a lot of them, to take to the hospital, but there was no more hospital. So I took them to [the neighborhood of] Delmas and we created a clinic there. I called my brother who’s a doctor, and he came over and treated people.”

Gerin Mathieu tells this story: “I felt the ground shake and I knew an earthquake was coming. I’d heard you were supposed to get under a solid structure, but the best I could do was jump into my baby’s cradle. When the shock hit, it turned the cradle sideways and shot me out into the air. I landed and was about to run, and then I suddenly had the idea that if I ran, I could die. I stopped and let the dust settle until I could see, and that’s when I saw that I wasn’t on the ground, I was on a roof. If I had run I would have fallen off and maybe died. I was standing there in just my boxers, holding my cell phone, which I had in my hand when the event happened. I pulled two big shards of glass out of my feet, which I hadn’t even felt.

“That night I slept on the sidewalk on Delmas Street without a sheet or anything. When it started to rain, everyone jumped up. The man next to me didn’t get up, so I shook his shoulder, ‘Hey, come on. It’s going to rain.’ That’s when I realized he was dead.”

From the back of a tap-tap, the brilliantly painted buses, my colleague Dieudonne Jeanty repeats a story his friend told him from January 6. “My friend got hired to knock down the remains of a house for some people. Everyone was long since finished looking for people because the earthquake was 25 days before; these people just wanted to clear their land. My friend was just about to bring the sledgehammer down on a wall when he heard a little voice say, ‘I’m here.’ If he had struck the hammer, the wall would have fallen right on her. He was so freaked out he dropped the hammer and started to run. But he heard a woman say, ‘I’m alive.’ She’d been trapped in a kitchen for 25 days. She said she drank water with a little salt, and sometimes she ate some food. She said she didn’t sleep at all, because she was scared she would die. They took her to a hospital in the Dominican Republic.”

Josette Perard recounts: “The driver, Margo, and I were driving down the street. All of a sudden everything started shaking, and right in front of us a wall started to fall. Our driver veered really fast to the right. Right at that second the building fell where I had just been. That driver saved my life.

“It was rush hour and the street was packed. A lot of cars in front of us got crushed. There was a child in the driver’s seat of the car right in front of us, and I thought for sure he or she – I don’t know if it was a boy or girl – was killed. But the child was so small, they took him or her out alive.

“Margo and I got out of the car and went to the middle of the street. But can you imagine someone inside a house? Houses were falling left and right. I heard people screaming. A woman who had just been pulled out of a house was lying on the ground bleeding, shouting, ‘Help! Help!’ I said to two policeman, ‘Call an ambulance for her.’ Those police were going crazy; they had family somewhere, too. They said there was nothing they could do, which was true. There was no way an ambulance could get through, the earthquake had thrown cars into the middle of the street and many were crushed.

“A little schoolgirl was in shock, panicking. She came to me sobbing, asking for my phone so she could call home. She called and called, but no telephones were working.

People were like zombies walking in the streets, they didn’t know what to do. A man we knew said to us, ‘My wife? My children? Where are they?’ Two people I knew were putting a wounded man on a door to take him to the hospital.

“Margo and I held hands and walked. I was in high-heeled sandals and there were big rocks. I told Margo I would take my shoes off; she said, ‘Don’t do that, there’s glass everywhere.’ I had a single obsession in my head: [my husband] Fritz. We walked for miles, but I didn’t even feel myself walking; I was like a feather. When we got to Delmas 53, I told Margo, ‘Leave me here. I’m not far from home, I’ll go on by myself.’ She is so incredible, she refused. I said, ‘Margo, you have to go, you don’t know what’s happened to the people in your home.’ She was more worried for my husband and me because we’re old and there was no communication. If anything had happened to Fritz, I couldn’t have called anyone. She walked all the way with me. When she found out Fritz was fine, she continued on home.”

Nico is eleven, as thin as a blade of grass. He is standing outside his new home, this one made of a blue tarp and sticks. One wall is completely open to his tens of thousands of neighbors who live in the same park beside the collapsed palace. His voice is so soft I have to lean against his ear to hear. He tells me his story in single lines, each in response to my next question. His story is this: “I was trapped in the house all day long, until nighttime. My house was in a three-story building and I was on the first floor. We all started running toward the garage. Some people got out but I didn’t. I couldn’t move because when the building collapsed, cement blocks fell on my legs. My godmother was in the room with me, and I called to her but she was dead. I kept calling out for help but no one heard me. Finally that night, after 10:00, my father pulled some blocks up and found me there. He’s a coffin-maker and he got back from work. My mother helped him. They pulled me out.”

Were you scared? “Yes.” What were you thinking about as you lay there? “I was lying there calling for someone and I thought I might die. But I didn’t want to die, and I thought maybe God would save me.”

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