Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Orleans – Day 2, Part 3

After hearing about what a special place St. Vincent’s was to the disabled population in and around Port-au-Prince, the room fell silent as Fr. Sadoni recounted his personal experience the day Haiti shook.

The day that changed everything...

On January 12, 2010, Fr. Sadoni was driving to meet with a parishioner. He felt the car begin to shake violently and they were suddenly being pulled off the road. The air was thick with clouds of dust, forcing Sadoni and his 2 passengers to stay with the car, waiting for the air to clear. When they could see again, they realized that the streets were impassible. So they moved the car to the sidewalk, and journeyed on foot to the parish and then on to St. Vincent’s.

People walked the streets in shock, searching for family members

The destruction was unimaginable. They passed “people sobbing, body parts in the streets”, people wandering around in shock, buildings flattened, rubble everywhere. When they reached St. Vincent’s, the two-story buildings that housed the dormitories, clinics and school had collapsed into the middle of the street. It was as if someone had given the building a nudge and tipped it over.

St. Vincent's buildings collapsed into the street

The students were terrified and confused. Thankfully, St. Vincent’s staff moved swiftly and were already evacuating the children from the damaged buildings when Sadoni arrived. (Author’s note: I can not imagine helping 350 healthy children during these circumstances, let alone blind, deaf and disabled children using crutches, canes and wheelchairs.)

Ten people from St. Vincent’s lost their life that day: 7 precious children and 3 dedicated employees. In the midst of their mourning, the group continued to focus on the living, helping to reunite families and caring for those whose permanent home was St. Vincent’s.

After 5 long days, the staff was able to locate one of the missing children, whom they presumed was dead. Instead, she had made her way to her family’s church. She was trapped in the debris there for 4 days before she was rescued and returned to St. Vincent’s.

With no shelter, the staff, children and Sadoni spent one week living on an open soccer field. They received no support from the locals who didn’t sustain damage from the quake. It was truly “every family for himself”.

The “growing smell of decay” forced the group to move out of Port-au-Prince in one of the only things they had left: their bus. They headed north to Montrouis where they lived in tents on church property for several weeks. The kids loved being out of Port-au-Prince but they were deathly afraid of the ocean with threats of a tsunami. Warner, a faithful employee of St. Vincent’s, played guitar every day, a blessing that helped to soothe the children.

Students with Fr. Sadoni and Fr. Squire in Montrouis

During their time in Montrouis, everything that was not destroyed in the earthquake was stolen from St. Vincent’s campus. Desperate people looted everything, including all documentation.

Upon the groups’ return to Port-au-Prince, Sadoni worked to find someone to clear the rubble from property. With help from Children Mission for the Blind, they were able to coordinate with the French Army to clear the area. Thankfully some of the doors, tables, furniture that was not destroyed or stolen was salvaged. But most everything was gone.

The French Army clearing the site

Today, the entire space has been cleared and is ready for rebuilding

And that’s where The Red Thread Promise steps in.

No comments: