PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Utahn Jeff Randle found himself speechless this week as he got his first look at the Healing Hands for Haiti rehabilitation complex he helped found more than a decade ago.
Concrete apartment buildings and homes were pancaked by the horrific Jan. 12 earthquake that has devastated Haiti.
Other buildings in the compound might not have been completely destroyed, but they are severely damaged and cannot be accessed. So not only are no facilities available for use, but the clinic cannot salvage the medicine, wheelchairs, crutches and cots stored in its warehouse.
"I thought I was going to cry when I saw this," said Randle after he completed his tour of the complex's 6-acre grounds in the La Vallee de Bourdon district of Port-Au-Prince. "But my heart is crying."
Randle's heart and healing hands have long been wrapped around Haiti — before founding Healing Hands, he served an LDS Church mission there. This week, he has been treating patients, and visiting and speaking with residents in their native Creole as one of the doctors on the medical team sent on a humanitarian mission to the shaken nation by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The tragedy at Healing Hands extended well beyond broken buildings. The organization rented out some of the apartments to supplement operating funds. As one five-story apartment building was flattened, two tenants — a man and a woman — were trapped alive inside. Would-be rescuers spoke with the victims, but they could not be excavated.
The two died inside the rubble.
For Randle, eight days after the original quake, the smell of death and the silenced voices of the victims underscored the futility and fatalities.
The deceased woman's son visited the site Wednesday to plead with the half-dozen workers he hired in hopes of retrieving her remains.
Randle was met by Antonio Kebreau, the clinic's operations manager, who gave him a list of updates, including news that CNN had produced a report on the damaged clinic the day before.
Kebreau had to talk Randle out of trying to salvage anything from the damaged buildings.
One heartwarming silver lining for Randle was learning that a clinic employee, John Francillon, who was thought to be dead, was in fact alive.
A young man who served in the complex's guest house for several years, Francillon was attending high school classes when the initial earthquake hit. He escaped with his life, but he had to leap from a window six stories high to do so.
Others were not as lucky. Only five from his class of 30 survived.
"He came from the dead," Kebreau said as he watched Randle share a tender embrace with Francillon. "Everybody thought he was dead."
One facility that survived the quake was the complex's guest house, and Randle surveyed the building to see if visiting LDS medical team members might spend their nights there, rather than at their current location at least an hour's drive from the makeshift clinics where they have been working.
Randle and others mentioned the awful stench that filled the guest house as they walked it — but it came from the rotting contents in the refrigerator, which hadn't been opened or operating since the earthquake, which knocked out power that had not yet been restored.
"What about getting the cooks back?" Randle asked Kebreau, wondering if they could cook for the visiting LDS medical team if it moved in.
"You've got to find them first," said Kebreau, who had been trying for a week to contact them.13 comments on this story
It was the same for the clinic's driver — he and his family were alive, but their home wasn't spared so they took to the streets. The driver had contracted diarrhea, likely from drinking spoiled water.
"We had a nice clinic and a nice place to stay — and we did a lot of good work," Randle said. "We had so many good memories here.
Already, he was mentally mapping out strategies to rebuild the complex.
"This was my annual trip to Haiti; this was my dream," he said. "But it sure feels like a nightmare."