Haiti earthquake diary: Landing in Port-au-Prince
As we drove from the airport through the rubble-strewn city, I felt lost on the streets I knew well.
Kathie has lived and worked as a writer in Haiti for more than 20 years. Her memoir, "Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Voudou, and Civil Strife in Haiti," is about her life in Haiti with her former husband, a Haitian musician, and their son.
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In my haste to leave for Haiti, I’d forgotten a few things, including a sleeping bag and flashlight. Big mistake. We were going to be sleeping on the tarmac and I could already see it was going to be a long, loud, night.
I quickly ran into journalists I knew and we commandeered a few cars. I sent one person to find out where my former husband, Jean Raymond, was, and in another I went with the ABC crew to see what was happening on the streets.
It was familiar: the empty, dark streets late at night. How many times over the past 20 years had I traveled through there? But now, because of the debris, the collapse of so many buildings, I didn’t know where I was.
At the major intersection of Delmas and Grand Rue, I couldn’t tell which street was which. I was totally turned around by the time we got to the first rescue site, where people were trying to free a young woman who had, the day before, been working at her desk at Citibank when the three-story building collapsed.
She was directing her own rescue, and the guys trying to free her were using the headlights of a car, a saw, and a car jack to lift the metal that entrapped her. It was terrifying and surreal and I wondered if this was happening at our house, if my former husband Jean Raymond’s three-story house had collapsed and someone was trying to free him.
For a few seconds I had a near melt down, wondering how I could possibly have thought that I could get to Haiti and start working without knowing if Jean Raymond was OK.
What an idiot. I should have waited for news in Miami first before getting on the plane.
The main streets were packed. No one wanted to be inside. On Delmas, there were people walking up the hill, people walking down the hill, people walking without direction.
They were crowded onto stairs, camped out on entrances to businesses that were now nothing more than chunks of concrete.
At one point, people who were headed down the hill were caught in a stream of people running up the hill. I asked a guy what was going on. "The ocean is rising," he said, and ran on.
I tried to stop people, tried to tell them that there was no more tsunami alert, that the ocean was flat and going nowhere, but it didn’t matter. They were running and I couldn’t blame them.
When I got back to the airport, Jean Raymond was waiting for me.
I felt faint with relief.
All the tears I’d held back poured out and I just held him. But, it felt like I was the one holding him up.
He looked empty, like the others I saw on the street who weren’t sure whether they were going up or coming down the hill. It was a look of bewilderment, one I expected to be all-too-familiar all-too-soon