(Next week I will continue my memoir posts)
On Tuesday, January 12th 2010, at 4.53pm local time, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people; injuring 300,000; and leaving 1,000,000 homeless. This is one man’s story.
Brian Wilkins is a quiet, reserved man, who serves his church, Hillside Community Church, in Tottenham, behind the scenes. He faithfully mans the sound system and does many small, unseen technical things that make things run smoothly. He is more comfortable in the background, while his wife Cheryl, with her beautiful voice, serves as a worship leader.
On January 10th at worship practice, Cheryl mentioned that Brian had left the day before for Haiti. His company, Trans Capital Air, had sent him there to repair a plane for the U.N. Cheryl seemed to be missing him already.
Two days later, on January 12th at around 5 o’clock, we heard the news of the catastrophic, magnitude 7.0 M earthquake that had just hit Haiti. Fear immediately gripped our hearts. Brian was on the U.N. base, close to the epicentre. A phone call from our pastor’s wife, Esther, interrupted our anxious thoughts. Esther’s voice was strained and anxious as she asked us to pray. We heard that the phone lines were down, so we were unprepared for her second phone call, later, this time full of relief, telling us that just after 8.00, Brian had managed to make contact with Cheryl. He was okay!
The previous Saturday, Brian had flown down to Haiti, via Miami. He planned to fly back the following Wednesday: January 13th. On the flight from Miami to Port au Prince he sat beside an elderly nun, the director of an order of nuns working there. She was a very talkative, lovely lady and told Brian that she used to live on the mission, but now went down for a couple of weeks at a time to oversee the work.
Upon arriving in Haiti, Brian made the decision not to stay at the Montana Hotel where his company’s employees would normally stay because it was quite a distance from the airport. Instead he stayed in a rented house in the U.N. compound, with 3 or 4 security police. At first he was a little reluctant, because it meant sharing sleeping quarters and a bathroom, but it was more convenient, he realized, so he overcame his reservations.
At about 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12th, with their job completed, he and some other mechanics got cleaned up and went back to the house. They had a few hours to kill and one of the mechanics asked Brian if he would like to see a bit of the city--he had to do some grocery shopping. They went to the
Caribbean Supermarket , the multi storey grocery store that all the U.N. people shopped at.
It was almost 5.00, after they had finished their shopping, when they stopped at a local restaurant with an open air courtyard. They were waiting for their order when they felt a gentle shaking that increased in intensity. They heard a loud, deep rumble, followed by screams. The men were thrown back and forth in their chairs and the pavement on the street was moving in a wave. This seemed to last about 30 seconds. Immediately a dust cloud rose up and hid the mountains that normally dominated the city. People were running and screaming. Many were praying and shouting out, “Jesus!” It seemed as if they thought that the world was coming to an end. Everywhere people were trying to use cell phones but they didn’t work.
The airport is low lying but the city is built on a mountain and they were about half way up the mountain at the time of the earthquake. Brian felt bewildered. There was nowhere to run or hide. The restaurant and buildings in its immediate vicinity were still standing, but as they made their way back to the house to make sure everyone else was okay, the full impact of what had happened was evident. Large apartments had collapsed into rubble in the streets. After the initial quake there was panic and screaming, but going back to the house it was pitch black because the hydro was out. It was silent and desolate. Brian felt scared, anxious and helpless. No one knew what was going on...
Part 2 on Thursday...