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Professor Jean Claude Returns from Haiti with Memories of a Flattened Land

When Professor Jean Claude lived in Florida, he experienced hurricanes. “But I never thought I would be in an earthquake,” he says. He was proven wrong when, visiting his family in Haiti during the break between semesters, he was right there when the disaster hit.

Two or three minutes before the earthquake, Professor Claude and a friend had left his sister’s house in Carrefour, Haiti, which was just 15-20 miles from the epicenter. They were on the road, driving to town, when they felt the earth shake and the vehicle jolt from side to side. “My friend thought it was a shooting, but I knew it was an earthquake,” he says.

In front of them, all they could see was a plume of dust coming from downtown Port-au-Prince. “We turned back and heard voices screaming, ‘Where’s my husband, where’s my kids’,” he relates.

Miraculously, all the houses on his sister’s block were still standing, not one of them destroyed. “My whole family was safe, including my other sister, who is a nun. Her convent was flattened but she’s okay. My father lives in the southern tip of the country, eight hours away, and that area wasn’t affected.”

For the next three days, Claude stayed put, sleeping in the car. “We slept on the street because an aftershock could have demolished the house. We just used the house to shower,” he relates. “The street was blocked to traffic to head off vigilantes in the neighborhood. You had to show that you had business on the block to enter.”

Claude was glad he was with his family during this time, but he couldn’t get in touch with his wife to let her know he was okay. “The day after the earthquake, my brother-in-law who lives in DC got through on the phone and I asked him to let her know we had survived.”

On the third day, Claude left town to drive to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where he would have a better chance to fly back home. It was then that he saw the full extent of the devastation. “There is no way to describe it except to say it was terrifying to see all the flattened land. The houses that were destroyed probably won’t get rebuilt. Most of the owners constructed their houses one concrete block at a time and had no insurance.”

Big changes are in store for Claude’s family in Haiti. One sister and her two children will join her husband in Maryland so the children will be able to go to school. His sister, who is a nun, will go south to attend to her (and Claude’s) elderly father. The sister Claude was staying with during the earthquake works for the United Nations. She and her son will stay in their home.

“The Haitian people are resilient and the country can recover” Claude notes. “It’s unfortunate that the disaster happened when it did because progress was being made. Hopefully, the international community will not desert Haiti.”

When asked which charity he recommended supporting, he says, without hesitation, “The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Clinton understands the country and is very dedicated to the Haitian people. The money raised will be used appropriately.”

Editor’s note: Students, faculty and staff who either were in Haiti during the earthquake or have family members/friends who were there are encouraged to share their stories. Send your story to mforsten@citytech.cuny.edu.

For information on the City Tech community’s response to the earthquake, go to: http://www.citytech.cuny.edu/haiti/index.html

2.05.10


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