First Person

Someone needs to keep watch

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Earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Liz Lucas / Oxfam America
Earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Liz Lucas / Oxfam America


Yesterday evening, a colleague received an email from Nelson Gaviria, a Peruvian national who was working for Oxfam in Haiti when the January 12, 2010 earthquake struck. Gaviria shared his experience of the magnitude 7.0 quake and the loss of his colleague Amedee Marescot. He wrote, in part:

A gigantic cloud of dust is mushrooming over the city down below and is coming towards the hills fast. The cloud brings darkness on all of us right away. … Building[s] and houses completely collapsed, antennas and electrical posts and lines on the floor, cars upside down, a gas station with gas tanks burning, smoke, chaos, destruction and desolation in a massive scale, unlike anything I have ever seen…

There are many aftershocks, we are in the street for hours, we hear the screams of those finding out a loved one is dead, groups start chanting, it goes on all night. I won’t be sleeping tonight, I rest my head on the ground, still bleeding; someone needs to keep the watch tonight.

Gaviria’s story is—like that of many survivors—a disturbing one. Oxfam’s Coco McCabe, in Haiti to help with the relief effort, sent the following message to two colleagues by BlackBerry early this morning.  “Perhaps,” she wrote “it was reading Nelson’s account of the 7.0 quake that has brought the horror of all of this to life”:

Two rumbles already this morning at the Oxfam Great Britain office. At the start of the first, everyone made a dash to the door, until a logistician shouted at everyone to stand still. We did.

It ended, our nerves a little rattled.

A shelter expert passing through spoke to those in the room. His voice was reassuring, but grave. Reminding us that our colleague who died had run outside, he said “This building has withstood a number of shakes–all these beams,” he pointed overhead. “It’s structural redundancy. This building is safe. You’re safe if you stay where you are.”

When the second rumble came 15 minutes later, we all stayed put. But I have to say, each shake that comes is making me more nervous. I’m a little surprised at myself.

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