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This Time it was Personal

Haitiantimes.com, Commentary, Garry Pierre-Pierre Posted: Jan 23, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE - I have been covering my beloved homeland for about 20 years. The assignments have ranged from coup detats to elections to flooding , carnival and festivals.

Those were all assignments that had nothing to do with me or my family. Those who are left in Haiti do not dabble into politics nor the music scene. The floods, for the most part , have occurred in the Artibonite plateau and Central region, my kinfolks hail from the south of Haiti.

For the first time I was personally and deeply affected by the devastation brought on by this earthquake that shook this mountainous nation of roughly nine million people to its core.

No immediate family members died in the calamity, but many friends perished. They are too numerous to mention here, this column would not end. My story is not unique, it is the story of every Haitian. For years to come, Haitians would talk about Tuesday January 12 in the same way they remember January 1, our independence from France, for different reasons obviously.

That day began routinely. I was home taking care of some stuff around the house while I surf the Web. By early afternoon after the news of quake and its magnitude reached me, I knew deep inside that the country is going to be forever altered, not only because of the physical devastation, but the human casualty.

My phone began to ring incessantly a few minutes later. A broken water pipe had my left house without heat on a frigid January evening, yet I felt hot, from a constant rush of adrenaline.

At first the calls were from friends who needed to know if I had more information, then they were from colleagues in the mainstream media who wanted to interview me about the situation in Haiti. I, like everyone else, had no idea of what had happened. The earthquake had knocked down the phone service and calls were spotty if you could get through at all.

I glued my television set to CNN and watched in horror. I dont like to comment when I dont have any information so I shied away from doing the kind of interviews that I cringe when colleagues do. They go on and on about an issue with a sliver of information.

But their line of questioning to me began to change. Now they wanted to know how my family was, had I heard anything. I had developed a stock answer, a trick learned from my Public Relations days. No, I replied, I havent heard anything, but one thing I know is its not good. Either theyre dead or theyre homeless.

I didnt know how prescient that would be. I told my wife Donna that I have to be in Haiti and I called Dr. Jean Claude Compas and ask him if he would be willing to go. Without hesitation, he agreed.

The next night we were on a plane bound for the Dominican Republic, hoping to charter a flight to Haiti. The earthquake had knocked down Port-au-Prince airports control tower and commercial flights were not landing there.

We went to the municipal airport in Santo Domingo and we were told that spot, there were no flights as well. There were hundreds of rescue workers trying to get in. The tarmac was crowed with cargo planes.

I realized quickly that option had closed and we decided to trek it overland. After a seven-hour drive, we made it into the capital under darkness. As we drove in from the northern outskirts of the capital, people seemed eerily calm. Some were even laughing. We felt it strange. Did CNN and other networks pull a fast one on us. This couldnt be. The houses had not crumbled with a few exceptions.

It wasnt until we got near the center of town that we saw the devastation. We drove around for about three hours, surveying the damages. I couldnt think about writing. I drove by my uncles house and saw that it was standing, I took a sigh of relief and drove through Carrefour Feuilles to visit some friends. The road was impassable with fallen homes. An alternate road was a a giant bedroom with the entire neighborhood sleeping there.

Then we went to Dr. Compas house in the Christ Roi neighborhood. His home had become my residence in Haiti. Whenever I was in town, this was where I stayed. I had become part of the family. The Compasses and my family know each other for over 100 years in the village of Chalon, outside Miragoane. My uncle and his father, Edrigue, or Pe Compas - as he is known affectionately - are close friends.

We held our breath when we saw the three-story cement abode crumble like pancakes. We didnt know how many people were there. What we knew for sure, Pe Compas , who had returned to Haiti from New York a couple of hours before the earthquake, was in there. An octogenerian, he could get out. He was under the rubbles. Dr. Compas brother Lesly was there as well.

Dr. Compas, Georges Boursiquot and I drove back to Pacot from Christ Roi to visit some of his family members and we learned that he had lost an aunt and uncle on that same day. He finally broke down and cried. Georges and I held him tight as his other family members cried along.

Exhausted we slept at a friends yard the first night. The dirt floor was too hard, despite my sleeping bag so I opted for the car. Early dawn, I got up and we went back to our mission. I drove by my uncles house only to discover that while standing it was severely damaged. I walked into the backyard and found my cousins Manno and Enide and her daughter along with Uncle Bob sitting there. It was the happiest I had ever been to see them, despite the fact that they were visibly shaken. The usually quiet Manno was loquacious. I didnt have to ask him what happened, he began telling me where he was when he heard the tremors, his next move and how he went from the third floor to the first to fetch his father to safety.

Off I was to La Plaine area to see the whereabouts of my sister and my fathers side of the family. They were all alright again living in the backyard of my sister Choupettes house.

After my survey, I drove to the Dominican border and bought food, water and other provisions for everyone. I dropped them by each house and then went off to work.

Related Articles:

Homes Designed for Extended Families Collapsed in Haitian Quake

Rush to Aid Haiti's Earthquake Victims

After the Quake, Depend on Women

Fate of Undocumented Chinese in Haiti Remains Unknown

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