Blog - James Addis

Blog #3: The aftershock

Well, a heart-stopping moment this morning when a powerful aftershock, just after 6 a.m. had me making a hasty exit out of my hotel. I was soon joined by the rest of the World Vision staff, mostly in pyjamas. Once we had recovered our breath, the conversation quickly turned to how many more fragile buildings might have been brought down. The whole thing maybe lasted six or seven seconds.

I’m writing at 6.30 a.m. and my heart is still pumping quite hard. It’s certainly the biggest quake I’ve ever been in, but I imagine peanuts for others. You can’t help feeling the people of Port-au-Prince could use a break. Yesterday, I spoke to a man at one of the city’s hospitals, where World Vision was delivering medical supplies. He was holding his bandaged up son, but had actually come to visit his daughter, who was lying on a stretcher, wrapped in multiple bloodied bandages. She had been trapped in a church building for two days before being rescued. But it was the father, Rosmond’s story, that struck me on this occasion.

He and his wife and 8-year-old son had been living on the street since the quake, sleeping on plastic sheets. He had been using the cash he had on him to buy food and water. That morning, his money had run out. It was about 3 p.m. and he and his family had not eaten all day. In one sense though, he was remarkably lucky. His home is built on a hillside and he was the only one at home when the quake struck. His wife was at work and his son at a neighbor’s house. Seconds before the quake hit he had gone to the outhouse to relieve himself. He had just stepped outside again, when the quake hit. Three houses slid down the hillside and crashed into and demolished his home. Rosmond and the outhouse remained standing.

Blog #2: Aid distribution

The last time I was deployed to a humanitarian emergency I had no wife and no children. This time I have a wonderful wife, Sharon, a daughter, Nicole, 3, and a young son Michael, 6 months. In previous emergencies I never got homesick. Now the tug of home hits more powerfully than ever. I keep needing to pull myself together. “For goodness sake man you have only been here a few days.”

It’s not only missing the family of course. The heat, the smell of sickness and despair, the tragic stories that one hears, it makes one long for peace and tranquility, the comforts of home, familiar faces; a strong cup of coffee--taken at leisure and not in a mad rush. Yesterday, I attended World Vision distributions of relief aid to the homeless – biscuits, health kits, clothes, and bottled water. Chatting to people waiting patiently in the lines, they all have a story.

One woman was trapped for days, hugging her infant son. She says she spent most of the time praying. Another woman, Gina Jean, was pulled from the rubble almost immediately. Bewildered, she ended up sitting in a street full of screaming people. When she eventually composed herself, and was able to thank God that she was still alive, and her children had also got out, she was then struck by a fresh fear: what about her husband out at work? He has not been seen since the events of Tuesday. Gina has since checked the local hospitals without success. If things were not bad enough, she now lives on a patch of waste ground with her two children. One of them is only 4 months old. The other is 10. A few strung up bed sheets and a washing line hung with clothes, are their protection from the sun. These things amount to their home at the moment. “It is shameful for my children to have to live like this,” she says. Soon I expect I will be able to go home and be reunited with my family. One can only guess what the future holds for Gina.

Blog #1: "This is the most shocking I have ever seen"

I’ve been deployed to many humanitarian emergencies. For me, this is the most shocking I have ever seen. I will never forget the corpses piled outside the city morgue. Travelling back to a modest hotel at 2 am last night we drove past hundreds, maybe thousands, who would have no shelter that night and perhaps not for many nights to come. Some slept under vehicles. Some on sidewalks. Some dangerously on the road. Some had set up chairs in the middle of the street and remained talking into the early hours. Vehicles were parked haphazardly. We had to ask bystanders for one to be moved. Our driver got out and helped push it. People were good natured about it all.

So far I have not seen a hint of the violence that some have predicted may erupt if conditions do not improve. On the contrary, for now, a spirit of cooperation seems to prevail.

At the hospital on my first day, where World Vision was distributing medical supplies, the hospital manager spoke enthusiastically of the volunteers who had come to help out. It took ages to reach the hotel. We lost our way several times in the narrow streets, many blocked by large bits of rubble.

The good news is World Vision’s flights bringing emergency supplies have started to land. We are expecting several in the next few days. The next challenge will be to distribute it. Everything takes an age. It’s hard to find trucks and gasoline. The simplest things—getting a driver, finding an internet connection, finding a place to stay at night require a lot of effort and planning. It’s tiring work.

But one only has to walk the streets for a few seconds. Take in the smells emanating from the makeshift camps to realize that ones own position is a thousand times better than that of those all around you.