Amid catastrophic loss, two people find themselves as Haiti bounces back from 2010 earthquake
Three hours after the earthquake, Kathleen Jeanty is in her Boston kitchen when she turns on the news. "There's been an earthquake in Haiti," the anchor is saying. "And it looks really bad." Kathleen laughs — people are always getting Haiti mixed up with other countries; most Americans can't even locate it on a map. Besides, a hurricane hit the island last year, destroying tens of thousands of homes and flooding the streets. The first black republic on earth, the writer Graham Greene once dubbed Haiti "The Nightmare Republic," a voodoo-haunted cleptocracy presided over by one corrupt government after another. The roads are a mess, the health care system virtually non-existent, unemployment so high no it's hard to track. How much bad luck could one place endure?
She calls her aunt who lives in Port Au Prince, but it goes directly to voice mail. She feels the first pangs of dread and turns up the volume. There's Brian Williams on NBC with a map of Haiti behind him. Kathleen covers her mouth and fights back tears as she hears the news. An earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale has just flattened sections of Port Au Prince, and tens of thousands are missing or dead. Memories of her childhood come flooding back: mornings spent on the balcony overlooking her yard; the cool, wet breeze when she stood on the beach; the mountains behind Port Au Prince, dark blue and hazy.
Kathleen left when she was 8 with her family, first to a cramped apartment in Boston and then to nearby Babson College, and now here, the mayor's office in the same town where she grew up, working with Haitian immigrants. She knows that in the coming months she'll be busier than ever, helping fellow Haitians track down family members in Port Au Prince, figuring out ways to send money, organizing relief efforts to send blankets, or food or clothes.
But for Kathleen, that won't be enough. She turns off the TV and begins calling Delta, American Airlines and any other airline going to Port Au Prince. She needs to get to Haiti as soon as possible.
Back in Port Au Prince, Berthony Theodor is making his way to the church in the darkness, the headlights of his truck scanning the rocky road before him. A month has passed since the earthquake, and the city lies in ruins. Some of the roads are impassable, covered in huge piles of rock and detritus, and he can't help but wonder how many bodies are buried underneath all the rubble.
The day of the earthquake, he rushed home on foot, passing heaps of crumbled buildings that still seemed to be smoldering, twisted street signs sticking out of the ground and smashed cars with shattered windows. It was hard not to stop and help dig for survivors but he had to get home first. When he arrived and saw his wife and children standing in the doorway he nearly wept with relief.
After the earthquake a network formed. The leaders of each of Port Au Prince's seven LDS congregations, the bishops, began calling all their members, and when no one answered they fanned out across the city to make sure their people were alive. Those who lost everything ended up at the church's three chapels in Port Au Prince, bringing along friends and neighbors who also needed help.
The church is up ahead, a cream-colored building surrounded by a white fence and palm trees, and tonight it's all lit up by emergency flood lights. Those who lost homes have pitched tents in the parking lot. Because of the aftershocks, Berthony has moved his family into the chapel, worried that their house will collapse. Every night he helps his wife put their kids to bed, and then he comes out into the hot and sticky night to work.
As Berthony nears the church, he can see the doctors helping have flown in from Salt Lake City, fellow Mormons sent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The food in the back of Berthony's truck came from the church's storehouse in Salt Lake City, too. More of it is coming — pallets and pallets of canned fruit and beans, as well as quilts and hygiene kits and bandages.
At first the church flew supplies into the airport at Port Au Prince, but the streets were so clogged with cars and white U.N. Hummers that they began trucking relief supplies in from the Dominican Republic. To prevent looting, they stored the supplies at a warehouse on the outskirts of town owned by a wealthy member, and then every night Berthony and a few others from the church drive a caravan of trucks full of relief boxes to the chapels.
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