Amid catastrophic loss, two people find themselves as Haiti bounces back from 2010 earthquake

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 1:02 p.m. MDT

When Berthony Theodor first moved to Port Au Prince he lived in a neighborhood like this one. Today he lives in a middle class section of the city.

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Two and a half years ago a devastating earthquake left more than 200,000 dead in Haiti. While the pace of reconstruction has been slow, aid workers say the country is finally turning a corner. This is the story of two people — one American and one Haitian — who lost things in the earthquake, but found themselves in the process.

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — On the day of the earthquake, Berthony Theodor gets to school early. He parks his car in the shade on a quiet street in Port Au Prince and pulls out a tattered textbook. This is his daily ritual. Every afternoon he comes up here 30 minutes before class starts to study.

He is a meticulous man with narrow shoulders and a small waist, precise in his dress and careful in his speech. Today, like most days, he's wearing a white button up and dark slacks.

He grew up in the Haitian countryside, in a town without running water or electricity. The dusty dirt roads that cut through his village rarely saw anything other than foot traffic.

Life is nothing like that now. Here in Port Au Prince the chaos is so pervasive there's a certain order to it. A cloud of choking exhaust seems to hang over the streets, swollen as they are with cars and flea-bitten dogs and vendors selling fish that give off a rancid, salty odor.

When he first moved to the capital he lived in a hillside slum, where the little drab homes of cinder block are built atop each other, like a delicately assembled house of cards. But now he lives in a middle class section of town with his wife and three small children.

Today, something is off. He feels a premonition that he should move, get out of the car. And so he goes inside the university to study.

He's waiting for his professor when he hears a low rumble and then a thudding boom that shakes the walls. The roof above him his collapsing. Out on the street, windows are shattering and children are screaming. The largest earthquake Haiti has seen in a generation begins toppling buildings, entombing tens of thousands of children beneath the wreckage. A massive plume of dust rises above the city, like the remnants of a bomb that has just flattened a city of seven million.

Berthony tries to stay calm, but he is panicking, his slender frame wedged between two walls that have collapsed around him. "Jesus," he prays, and then he sees a path out of the wreckage and squeezes his way through the building. Under a sky darkened by dust, he remembers to pray first, thanking God for saving him and pleading for the safety of his family, and then begins frantically dialing on his cell phone to reach his wife, but there's no service, and won't be for hours.

He looks over at the spot where he parked his car, the place he studied every afternoon but this one. His car is gone, a clump of steel and glass reduced to sheet metal by a jagged piece of concrete. If he hadn't gone inside the school, he would have died in an instant. Why God saved him, he doesn't know, but he feels there must be some meaning in it, some responsibility that comes with such a miracle.

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