(Continued from Monday)
By the time they got back to the house it was about 8.00 p.m. They took a roll call and established that everyone was okay, although a large privacy wall had come down and the plumbing was damaged. They knew they needed to get word out to their families that they were safe and they managed over the internet to do that, using Skype, even though the phones weren’t working.
The UN requested that the pilots and flight attendants be on standby at the airport, as they thought they would want to evacuate and a Hummer picked them up and took them to the airport.
Brian, and Carl, his colleague, slept that night on the couch, close to the door. There were a number of bad aftershocks and they woke up twice that night and ran outside.
By Wednesday afternoon Brian realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since Tuesday afternoon. It really began to hit home fully how bad things were. The local people brought bodies to the gate of the UN compound because they didn’t know what else to do.
The flight crew at the airport switched over with another crew. They suggested that if Brian wanted to leave he’d have to go to the airport and stay with them. So Brian went with them and while there he helped change the configuration of the airplane from passenger to med-evac; a procedure that involved taking out the aircraft’s seats. They were expecting things to get really crazy at the airport, but it took a couple of days before they started evacuating people. By Wednesday most of the people from the compound didn’t want to stay at the house so they stayed at the airport, sleeping on benches and eating the rations the military gave them. A few of the flight attendants did what they could to help at the UN hospital.
On Thursday night they announced that evacuations were starting on Friday. Meanwhile, a Trans Capital aircraft left Toronto with emergency food and medical supplies.
On Friday morning Brian and others unloaded the aircraft that had landed, and prepared the airplane for flight again. It was amazing how quickly the relief came and the airport was a beehive of activity. Brian said that a lot of people bash the Americans but they were the first to show up in a Coastguard Hercules. He said that he took his hat off to them. Military airplanes were now coming in from all over the world. The commercial traffic had been stopped immediately; the buildings in the airport were damaged, including the control tower and there was no fuel.
Brian left on the flight out, which took UN people and their families. He felt such relief to be on the plane, but mixed with that relief was a deep sadness for the people who couldn’t leave. Things were starting to get quite desperate on the ground although at first it had seemed quite calm.
Brian sat beside the bodyguard of one of the men who had been killed at the UN; its mission chief: Hedi Annaabi. The bodyguard, an Estonian living in Miami, had been buried under the rubble for two days, but was able to communicate with rescuers by two way radio, while they worked to reach him. The man had been working a month on and a month off as a bodyguard. He told Brian that he was never going back to Haiti. He had decided instead to go back to school.
A French woman on the plane was traveling with two small children of 3 or 4 years old. She had lost her husband in the quake.
The plane landed in Miami and Brian flew out to Toronto the next morning with other people from Port au Prince, including two young men with leg injuries.
It was a tearful reunion when they landed. Brian’s lovely wife Cheryl and their two beautiful children were waiting for him. Brian was not ashamed to say that they all had a good cry.
So much has happened and Brian has been trying to process it all. There were so many moments he looks back on when he feels that he was being guided. The Montana Hotel , where he could have stayed, was reduced to rubble. The five stories of the Caribbean Supermarket collapsed half an hour after he was inside it. He had a strong sense of God being with him when he heard.
He is haunted by a vivid memory of a young man in a green land rover who arrived as he was leaving. He had two girls that he took by the hands as they walked in. He remembers the face of the woman at the cash register and thinks of the nun he sat beside on the plane from Miami. He wonders if they made it out.
Brian is grateful he is alive, but asks himself why he was spared when others weren’t. He has thought more than ever before about the purpose of his life. He feels for the people of Haiti who live in tremendous hardship. The earthquake added to what was already a very difficult situation there.
Mostly he has become aware that life is precious and fragile.
(As told to Belinda Burston by Brian Wilkins)