Tales of Haiti: Of harrowing days and, sometimes, survival

Miami HeraldJanuary 17, 2010 

Unimaginable devastation. Indescribable grief. The screams of the injured. The moans of those clinging to life beneath the wreckage. And the silence — from relatives who haven't been heard from, who may never be heard from.

There are miraculous survivor tales, stories of heroic actions by people who've lost everything but still are out in the streets of Port-au-Prince trying to save loved ones, trying to save strangers.

Shattered Haiti is a mosaic of those tales, recounted in the ruins of Port-au-Prince and in living rooms in the United States.

DR. WILL CONNOR

Meeting needs, even before getting to the disaster

On his way to Port-au-Prince Sunday, Dr. Will Conner and his traveling companions stopped the car. Within minutes, the doctor was injecting a 3-year-old with medicine because he feared the child had typhoid. Other Haitians rush over asking if he's a medical doctor. They say a man is dying nearby and needs help.

The man lay inside a tent in a parking lot, suffering from an infection on his left leg. A closer look revealed wounds covering his entire body. Dr. Conner will do his best.

After spending the night in the Dominican Republic, about 30 miles from the border, the doctor, a reporter, and a driver-bodyguard named Hector began driving west toward Port-au-Prince. Still far outside the city, they were already seeing the injured and the desperate.

“Just looking into Haitians' eyes, you can see the despair,” Conner said.

All along the road from Jimani are buses and trucks carrying relief workers. The vehicles have "La Vi Pa Fasil" painted in bright yellow, blue and green letters across the front. It means, “Life Is Not Easy.” (Franco Ordonez)

ESTANA SUPPLICE

Pregnant and in 'lots of pain'

They carried her in a chair as she cried in pain. Almost eight months' pregnant, Estana Supplice, 29, says concrete fell on her as her ramshackle house rattled in the earthquake.

"I'm in lots of pain,'' she said, sitting up, unable to lie down and holding her lower stomach and back.

After 48 hours of pain and sleeplessness, she was finally lifted in a chair and taken to the nearby site set up by the International Red Cross in Pétionville.

Volunteers said the baby was likely dead and that Supplice would likely not survive more than 12 hours. Her father, sitting nearby, broke down at the news. `They say they have to take the baby. This is my grandbaby,' he said. `I feel defeated. I already lost a lot of people. I can't even begin to evaluate this.'

Six members of his family died during the earthquake.

"It's in the hands of God,'' he said.

Twenty-four hours later, Supplice was still alive, her baby still inside her. Maybe dead. Maybe not.

"They sent me to get a sonogram,'' she said, still in great pain. "I don't have any money.'' (Jacqueline Charles)

TELANA MENTOR

Searching faces for her siblings

Telana Mentor, who lives in North Maimi, can't pry herself away from the TV. She scans the faces of the dead and the living.

She thinks she's just caught a glimpse of her sister or her brother in crowds outside the wrecked presidential palace, in piles outside the morgue.

But then -- no.

She hasn't heard from either sibling since the earthquake hit. And she's having a hard time holding out hope.

``I can't sleep. I can't turn off the TV. Maybe I will see them. They don't live far from the palace. A lot of the news cameras are around there,'' said Mentor, 66, a certified nursing assistant who works the night shift at a nearby nursing home.

She should be sleeping in the afternoons. But she can't give up her vigil.

Mentor had just sent $500 to her brother and sister. She hadn't seen either for 19 years, since her last trip home, but she kept in touch by phone.

She has lost count of the times she has tried to get them travel visas. Or how many times she had made personal sacrifices to be able to send money.

``Even when my mother passed, they were not given visas to come here. They had not seen their mother in seven years,'' Mentor said.

Her granddaughter Darly Mathieu, 23, of Pembroke Pines, is worried about her.

``Her brother and her sister are the only two relatives she has left in Haiti,'' Mathieu said. ``Every time she talks about them she cries. She keeps saying, `What if they are already dead?' ''

And then, on Saturday, a blessing. The two were able to call. They were homeless, but they were alive. (Lydia Martin)i

SARAH LAUTURE

'There is always a spark of hope'

For about a day and a half, loved ones were optimistic about seeing Sarah Lauture, 28, come out alive from the wreckage of the Montana Hotel, where as many as 300 people were reportedly trapped.

Rescuers, who believed an employee named Sarah was speaking to them from somewhere inside the rubble, worked around the clock while Sarah's mother, Joelle Benoit, watched and waited.

"Sarah was banquet manager for the Montana. She worked and lived on the premises,'' said her cousin Joelle Maximilien-Miller of Plantation, Fla.

Early Friday, rescuers finally pulled out the woman they thought was Sarah. It wasn't. It was Sarla Chand, 65, a physician from New Jersey.

``Her mother had been walking around calling Sarah's name. This other person responded. Sarah and Sarla sound similar,'' said Maximilien-Miller. ``I can't even imagine what that would be like, hollering for your daughter and trying to stay out of the way of the workers. And thinking that she was alive in there. And then it turns out to be someone else.''

Sarah, who received a master's degree in hotel management in France and worked at Brickell Avenue's Conrad Hotel from 2006-2008 before taking the job at the Montana, remains missing.

"I would say that this is my worst nightmare. But not even in my worst nightmares would I have imagined what is happening in Haiti,'' Maximilien-Miller said. ``But I don't want to say I've given up hope. There is always a spark of hope.'' (Lydia Martin

THE DOUZE SISTERS

Sisters vow to lay mom to rest

Jeannie Douze, 65, was killed by a falling block of concrete as she fled the shopping plaza housing the funeral home and bakery she had owned.

When the worst of the earth-shaking was over, her three sisters managed to move the body about a block down the street to the small guest house Douze also had owned, which survived. They placed her on a bed, and one of the sisters, Elita Douze, vowed to watch over her body. Three days later, she still hadn't left Douze's side.

In South Florida, Douze's three daughters scrambled to find a way to get into Haiti. They found a flight to the Dominican Republic leaving Fort Lauderdale at 6 p.m. Friday.

``We've been told that they're not letting people across the border,'' said the youngest, Mimi Douze, 40, an information-technology consultant from Tamarac. ``But we'll get there.''

They don't want their mother going into a mass grave.

``The more time passes, the more she is going to deteriorate,'' Mimi Douze said. ``A funeral worker here told us to rub bleach and salt water on her body, but we hadn't been able to talk to my aunt in Haiti for more than two days to tell her to try this.''

Douze's daughters are prepared to do whatever it takes to lay their mother to rest as respectfully as possible.

``If we have to cremate her ourselves on the roof of the hotel, we are going to do it,'' Mimi Douze said. ``If we have to find a spot outside the hotel where we can bury her, we'll do it.''

The sisters agree that Jeannie Douze would have preferred her final resting place be in her homeland. About four years ago, she was kidnapped there and held for ransom. The sisters scrapped together $55,000 to free her.

Shaken, Douze returned to Miami. But soon enough, she was heading back to Haiti.

``She was tough. And she loved Haiti,'' Mimi Douze said. (Lydia martin)

ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH SERGE MIOT AND BISHOP CHARLES BENOIT

Bishops are among the few to get a proper burial

The mourners were covered in dust and surrounded by the remains of the national cathedral. They carried axes and wore shirts over their faces.

Fr. Edward Ducarmen wore a collar and a mask over his mouth. His dark slacks and spotless grey shirt stood out in the filth. He tore open a plastic bag of water, the kind sold at intersections in third-world countries, and sprinkled it on the plain wooden casket containing Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Bishop Charles Benoit.

They would be among the very few to receive a proper burial, after a service where people prayed and sang. (Frances Robles)

SAINT FLEUR NICHOLSON

Bittersweet call from a stranger tells him his sister is alive -- for now

Saint Fleur Nicholson of Miami spoke to his sister Jeneane in Port-au-Prince a few hours before the earthquake hit.

She was driving to Carrefour, outside the capital, where she runs a children's nursery.

Since then, none of his calls had gone through.

He feared Jeneane was killed.

At 4:15 p.m. Thursday, the phone finally rang. It wasn't Jeneane but a stranger.

"He said `I'm trapped right now. I'm trapped under the concrete!' said Nicholson, 33.

The stranger was passing along the words of 43-year-old Jeneane, who was shouting through the rubble. Rescuers had tried to save her but could not get her out.

She shouted the names of 14 children trapped with her.

She couldn't see their faces but had counted their cries.

A tearful Nicholson was relieved to hear from a loved one, but the feeling was bittersweet.

"Let's just hope she stays alive,'' Nicholson said, yearning to hear her voice. (Jaweed Kaleem)

ROSELIN JEANBAPTISTE

After frantic search, relief

Roselin JeanBaptiste, a student at Miami's St. Thomas University, dropped off his parents at Miami International Airport on Jan. 4. They were on their way to their beloved Haiti to vacation and visit relatives.

``I love you,'' he said before exchanging hugs. ``Have the best trip.''

They called three days later to check in.

He had skipped the annual trip. He couldn't get off work at Flagler Dog Track.

``It was supposed to be a vacation,'' said JeanBaptiste, 25, of Miami Gardens.

That was the last time he spoke to his parents.

Thursday night, their words lingered in JeanBaptiste's mind as he held a photo of his loved ones toward a TV camera.

ABC News had come to Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood to film families of survivors. Those who held photos of missing family and friends hoped that viewers would have good news.

The gesture was JeanBaptiste's last resort.

Phone calls, e-mail, Facebook -- nothing got a response.

Shortly after 8 p.m., JeanBaptiste went live on national TV. He called out his family's names: Epha, his father; Marie Mercie, his mother; Andre, his uncle. The camera shut down. Images of destruction flashed on the live feed.

He cringed.

At 8:28 p.m., his phone buzzed.

It was a text message from Hyphygenie, his sister in Atlanta.

``They found them,'' he said. ``They're alive.'' (Jaweed Kaleem)

MAMIE JOEVEER Prayers made and answered

Her husband was alive but pinned under the rubble of the United Nations building. Back home in Miami Shores, there was nothing Mamie Joeveer could do but wait.

"You try not to think of the what-ifs,'' said Joeveer, 34, a freelance writer. She and her husband Tarmo, who is from Estonia, met five years ago in Haiti. He is a U.N. security officer. She was a Marine captain on assignment.

The Joeveers, who have 2-year-old twins, spoke by phone Tuesday afternoon. Twenty minutes later, the earthquake hit. Mamie couldn't get her husband back on the phone.

"`I was just glued to the TV,'' said Joeveer, originally from Missouri. "I was trying to stay calm. I kept telling myself, 'He is in diplomatic security. He is highly trained for situations like this. He has always been my hero, and I trust him to come back.' ''

The phone rang at 1 a.m. Wednesday. Mamie's heart stopped when it wasn't Tarmo on the other end.

``It was someone else from the U.N. saying that he was trapped, but he was speaking and he sounded like he was OK,'' she said. ``In total he was trapped for 38 hours. Finally at 7:40 a.m. Thursday, they called to say that he was out. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.''

Another hour went by before Tarmo, 37, called. ``The first words out of his mouth were `I love you,' '' said Joeveer, who had sat the twins down earlier Thursday morning and got them to pray.

``I said, `Bow your heads.' Then I said, `Dear God, please make sure Daddy is safe. We love Dada. Amen.' They repeated the words after me. I was so impressed they did that.'' (Lydia Martin)

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service