As Jeronne let her grip loosen on the kitchen table and ended her 40 seconds of screaming at the top of her powerful lungs for Jesus, it slowly began to sink in that we'd just experienced something epic. Something we will never forget.
For me personally, the sound of the earthquake is what struck me the very most. Yes, we were shaking and yes the entire house was rocking, so much that you easily fell down as you walked. But the sound was deafening and it is what first registered with me when I wondered WHO could possibly want to bomb Haiti?
The kitchen floor was covered in soy sauce and spaghetti sauce and glass. Troy was pacing. He seemed uncertain of what to do first. Upstairs the desks had vibrated out of their places to the center of the office area. Books had shaken free from their spots on the shelves. The floor was covered with office supplies, papers, things from the walls, and glass. The boys' "pet" lizard used the opportunity of a broken pickle-jar to escape once and for all. The walls were bare of everything that hung on them just sixty seconds earlier. Water leaked from the toilet that had been shaken out of its place.
While Troy went to check on the Guest house and our friends and sons, I moved the kids to the driveway. Their bodies shook even though for those few moments the earth stood still. When just minutes later the first of many strong after-shocks hit, they all dove for my arms, for safety in my lap. Jeronne screamed for Jesus again. Paige remained cool and calm and helped hold little ones. Even in the chaos and fear, I noticed her response and felt gratitude to her. She had landed back in Port au Prince from Florida only six hours earlier.
The internet phone rang, it was the weather channel. The call dropped before we could figure out what they wanted from us. We were too confused to understand how the Weather Channel even found us? After getting the call out to my Dad and posting a quick blog post, the internet dropped. We spent the first two hours after the earthquake trying to determine that everyone in our area of Tabarre was accounted for. Troy had gone to get Vivien, Megan, Kristen, Erin and their kids from the guest house. They all moved to the driveway of our house. We traded a lot of "I don't believe this" type commentary.
Not one single Digicel (local cell provider) call would go through for us. About 45 minutes after the EQ John pulled up on his motorcycle and informed us that Jonna, Joanna, the Tlucek kids, Kelli, the Childrens' Homes, and the Buxmans had all been unhurt and their houses remained standing, although damaged to varying degrees. Just knowing that our little circle of people were all alive felt like a gift. We did not know the magnitude of the damage across the city by any means at that point, but we knew that 8 houses still standing up and no injured people was nothing short of miraculous.
Overall during the first two hours everyone stayed very calm. Inside I think we were all incredibly afraid. I remember feeling helpless as Erin and Kristen wanted to talk to their husbands but the internet phone was not working well.
Around 7pm the dinner that had been started before the earthquake was finished and we all quietly fed the kids enchiladas as we tried to act less nervous than we were each time the house shook. By the time we finished eating it was very dark outside and we knew we needed to start conserving battery power. We began discussing who would sleep where. Kristen's infant daughter was running a fever and vomiting, the sick baby added to the heavy feeling in the house.
I lose track of time a bit at this point, but around 8pm or so Megan began to share that she had not gotten through to her friends at Three Angels Orphanage and that she felt it was important to go check on them. I remember my initial response. It was a mix of selfishness and understanding. I said, "Well, you cannot drive a stick-shift and Troy is not going to want you going alone so he'll have to agree to come with you." I was instantly wishing I did not have to give Troy up, but I knew Megan should not go do that alone. (If you know her, you know she would have gone alone on foot if necessary.) I went to Troy to tell him what Megan wanted to do. He agreed they needed to get up the hill to check on the orphanage. I am not sure where the feeling came from but saying goodbye to him felt very large to me and I was incredibly fearful that I would never see him again. I actually said, "If I never see you again, I love you so much. But PLEASE come back." Everything felt so out of control. Paige really wanted to go with Troy and Megan. I had no peace about that and although Troy would have allowed it I said, "No Paige, I don't know what it is like out there." She was pretty angry with me for that.
After Troy and Megan left we lit candles and put everyone to bed. The aftershocks continued every 30 minutes or so but were less strong. I laid next to sleeping Paige and begged God to protect Troy and Megan. I prayed things I have never prayed before. The hours wore on and I paced the house trying to calm down. Eventually I grabbed Troy's lap-top and went to the guest house. I think that was around midnight. I was too afraid to go inside and sat on the stoop outside of the house. When I logged into Troy's computer it began to download over 1,000 messages ... I glanced at the subject lines as they downloaded, they said "have you seen" and "can you help me confirm" and "my husband is missing" and "will you talk to us by phone" ... I started weeping. I read Troy's tweets to learn a few things about where he'd been. I logged into Facebook to see a link to a photo of the Palace. Collapsed. I could not believe my eyes. I think that was the moment, around 1am, that I realized the magnitude of those 45 seconds of shaking. As I sat on the stoop willing the battery to hold up the aftershocks continued. Each time little pieces of cement would fall out of the wall of what used to be Vivien's room. As they happened the neighbors gathered in a circle in the street would pray and sing louder.
Troy and I are already fuzzy on some of the timing of that night/morning. Around midnight he was back in our area but his main purpose was to get Jonna and Joanna and if I remember right, Vivien - he was checking to see if they wanted to help at a make-shift medical clinic for the night. Megan had stayed with the Three Angles group. After retrieving supplies and the girls, he brought them back up the hill to work. He returned home around 4am. We laid down and Troy told me what he had seen. He cried as he told me the story of a young woman and her husband's cousin sitting outside of the collapsed St. Josephs Boys home. Her husband was trapped inside. The husband had been singing for awhile, they could hear him, but eventually the singing stopped. Troy asked if he could give them a ride, they were not ready to leave or give up on saving their lost loved one. They wrote their names down for him in shaky writing, the paper sat on the kitchen counter waiting to be reported to the US Embassy when we could get through to them. He told me about other things, like walking over the top of buildings and past many bodies. He listed the places we know well that he had visited and found reduced to rubble. He said it felt like Armageddon. Around 5am Troy fell asleep for 30 minutes. I got up. I wrote this but could not post it until later that morning when I went back to the guest house. When I went to post it another 800 messages downloaded. Most of them were in search of an interview or a loved one. A few messages demanded we post photos immediately - I was ticked at that and responded with this comment: "We will not be posting photos here. We have limited time and internet ... Imagine the worst - you have your picture." I had no idea how true that statement was.
Kristen and Erin started getting some calls out to their husbands to help them find a way out of Haiti. In the end all of the flights their husbands booked never left Haiti. But for 48 hours they booked and re-booked flights frantically. I barely offered them comfort as I was so freaked out about everything, I know they could have used a more encouraging hostess, but we all sort of did our best.
Troy left again early Wednesday morning to go out for the first time in daylight. We had no way to communicate back and forth within Haiti but he was trying to find out if some friends and acquaintances were okay. The emails poured in faster than we could read them. I delivered messages to Troy and John as I was able. Morgan, John's daughter, wanted him to go check on some family friends. Those friends ended up coming out of the rubble as John arrived on Wednesday. People wanted Troy to check on their loved ones. The feeling of helplessness hit hard. There would be no way even with unlimited diesel (which we did not have) that we could go to all the places or check on all the people. Roads were blocked, fuel was running short, everything took so much time and there was no way to quickly communicate back to me as he found things out. As requests came in with photos attached, we separated them into categories ... areas we could get to and areas we could not get to ... faces we knew well and those we had no idea how to find. I made a list of the ones Troy could feasibly check on.
Weeks later, certain faces and photos and names stick with us. A photo of a red-haired man that was at the Montana Hotel is forever etched in my memory. I know his name and his face, his family never got to see him alive again. I pray for them every-time the image pops into my mind. Troy will never forget the people he met that night, the ones who lost their husband, their cousin. He ran into them again at the US Embassy on Thursday.
At our own house the internet would come up for an hour then drop, each time it was up the phone rang non-stop. Media outlets we did not know existed wanted to talk. We felt far too overwhelmed to talk to them, we did not want to say something in our exhaustion or fear that we would later regret. We had others help us screen calls and refuse all interviews.
(For the sake of finding them later each installment will be EQ P# - for earthquake part _ ).
(The less detailed telling of the first few days can be found here.)
EQ P2 when time allows. The details of deciding to evacuate the first five kids and the experience at the US Embassy.