Dear Friends of Hands Together,
Fr. Tom and I just want to thank you for your support, prayers and concern and let you know that we are uninjured and thank God to be alive. To everyone who called, emailed, and contacted our folks in the U.S. we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we love you.
Now we are gathering supplies and resources and putting together a response plan. We will return to Haiti to begin what we know will be a long and painful recovery. Below is a brief summary of what happened and our planned response to the January 12 earthquake.
The earthquake struck at around 5 pm Tuesday afternoon while Fr. Tom and I were finishing a meeting in our office on Delmas 31. The force of the quake violently knocked us to the floor and we crawled under a sturdy metal office table near the front window. Cement and glass fell all around us and I saw our staff people, Nelson and Robert, sprinted out of the building – which saved their lives.
As the tremors subsided Nelson returned to help me and Tom out of the building. After the tremors stopped, we stood in the road looking at our residence which had collapsed into a pile of cement rubble. We were surrounded by many of our staff and the Oblate volunteers who lived in the house –many of them were bleeding and shaking and crying.
A headcount revealed that 4 of our 21 Oblate volunteers who lived in the house were trapped under the rubble. During the night we dug constantly and rescued 2 of our volunteers – one suffered a broken arm and the other was unconscious and near death. Every 30 minutes or so, aftershocks shook the ground and sent us running into the street in fear. We brought the rescued to Mother Teresa’s nuns for treatment. (We can report with gratitude that the Missionary Sisters of Charity suffered no real damage and they are all OK).
A quick walk through our Delmas neighborhood to the Sisters compound revealed to us the enormous destruction. Every 3rd building was destroyed and people filled the streets and open grounds--crying and shaking and traumatized.
None of our phones worked and we tried constantly to call the United States. At 11 pm we received a call from Kaitlin and Julie Campbell and this brief connection with the United States brought us great comfort.
Our post-earthquake community numbering 2 dozen people, including Fr. Tom, Doug Campbell, Nelson, Robert, Fr. Gerard, Oblate volunteers, workers from Cite Soleil and a few other friends, spent the night outside on the road. Nobody really slept.
Wednesday, January 13
We tried to rescue the two trapped Oblates but without heavy equipment our efforts were useless against the 3 collapsed floors of concrete. CNN news gleaned from a hand held TV revealed that all of Port-au-Prince was devastated by the quake and tens of thousands of people perished. We collected bottled water and rice from the debris and moved our base to our depot and parking area next door.
During the day our staff doctor, Fanfan, treated our injured and sick and we gave out a meal of rice and beans with water.
We toured our Becky DeWine high school campus and can report that all the buildings are still standing, the kitchen appears functional and as far as we can tell, no personnel or staff suffered injury. We do not have any current information at on the condition of our other campuses and we need to make a complete assessment on the health of our 6700 students and 300 staff people.
After visiting the U.S. embassy to register and send emails to family and friends we drove through the city of Port-au-Prince. Words fail to communicate the horror of this drive. We passed hundreds of collapsed concrete buildings: schools, hotels, markets, houses, government buildings, churches, and many dwellings – all destroyed. People swarmed the rubble trying to pull out people. We saw dead bodies all over the streets and falling out of buildings.
Nelson drove up Delmas and pulled into a side street, stopped the truck and pointed to a pile of cement rubble. He said, "There is my 3 year old daughter and her mother. They are dead."
At midnight Tom and I awoke to a frantic mob of people screaming that a tidal wave was coming. We jumped up and raced into our jeep and drove up Delmas, thinking that at any moment we would be drowned. Thousands of homeless people filled the streets. An hour later we realized that the tsunami alarm was a rumor -- but for us it was very real and absolutely terrifying.
Thursday, January 14
After Tom said Mass for the sisters we packed our jeep and drove to the Dominican Republic. We arrived too late for the last U.S. bound flight so we spent the night in Santa Domingo and flew to Miami on Friday, January 15.
We face a long and difficult recovery, and we need more than anything your continued prayers and whatever you can share to help us reopen our schools and projects. Our hearts are broken for the people, but we believe God spared us for a reason and we need to be part of the “springtime” that is on its way. Please pray for us.
We will suspend all volunteer and parish delegations for a three month period as focus all our energy on recovery and rebuilding efforts. Our short term recovery plan is outlined in in the document "Earthquake Recovery Plan" posted on the website.
This is the first phase only. Our goal is to inject some normalcy back into the lives of our 6,700 students as quickly as possible, even if the classes and feeding take place under tents.
We will keep you updated as best we can. If you can make a gift, below is the link for a credit card gift or you can mail a check to our address below. God love you.
Doug Campbell, Executive Director
Hands Together, Inc.
P.O. Box 80985
Springfield, MA 01138