Shaken up in Haiti: Local women witness tragedy tragedy while on mission

February 2010 Posted in News, People, Photo Gallery

By Kristine Thomas Cecelia Taylor, left. Cierra Thompson, Rosie Thompson, Janna Peters Grace Fudge and Dawna Peters posed for a photo during their mission with Lifeline Christian Missions in Grand Goave, Haiti. The photo was taken prior to the earthquake.

See below for more images from Haiti

Around 4:50 p.m., Jan. 12, in Haiti, Scotts Mills resident Cecelia Taylor was writing in her journal while on the roof of the three-story dorm with her sister, Grace Fudge of Salem.

Twins Janna and Dawna Peters, 39, of Mt. Angel, were on their bunk bed on the second floor with Janna journaling and Dawna napping.

Rosie Thompson of Silverton and her 22-year-old daughter, Cierra Thompson of Mt. Angel, were on the first floor.

Although physically on different levels, the same thing crossed their minds when the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti at 4:53 p.m.

“The first thought was that I expected to see my Maker today,”  Thompson said. “We were on the ground floor and I expected the building to collapse.”

“I thought we were going to go down in a pile of rumble,” Taylor said. “The shaking threw Grace and I to our knees and we were both praying for Jesus to save us.”

The six women were working with Lifeline Christian Missions in Grand Goave, Haiti, about 35 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The epicenter of the quake – in Leogane – is about halfway between Grand Goave and Port-au-Prince.

Feeling like they were on a small boat rocking uncontrollably in the waves, Thompson, Taylor and Janna Peters vividly recall the piercing screams and the objects falling all around them. They talked about the experience while sitting in Thompson’s office at Mt. Angel Towers, where they all work. They are thankful to be home. Yet memories of the earthquake frequently invade their thoughts.

“I can still hear shrills and screams of people,” Thompson said, adding she recalls the wailing of Haitians when learning a loved one had died.

“All I could think was the screams sounded like people in hell,” Taylor said.

When the earthquake began, Thompson immediately knew what it was and ordered her daughter to stand in the doorframe.

“When the shaking stopped, I told her to run out of the building,” Thompson said. “She was going to run to the left, which would have been the fastest way out of the building, but I pulled her to the right and out the long way. Things were falling all around us. We later learned a 6-foot wall had collapsed against the door to the left.”

Thompson believes it was “God’s guidance grabbing me to go the right way.”

As Taylor and her sister were descending the stairs, she felt no movement and thought it was a lull from the trembling.

“When we got to the bottom, a woman in the yard said she saw us flying side to side on the staircase,” Taylor said. “I truly believe angels were carrying us down the stairs.”

A locker crashing to the floor and tremors frightened Janna Peters. She looked for her sister so they could leave together but concluded she had already fled. She was one of the last to leave the building.

“I just remember hearing someone yelling at us to get out, get out of the building,” she said.

For 30 years, Lifeline has been working in Haiti to serve children and their families. Taylor inspired her sister and colleagues to join her on a mission trip. She had gone in 2008 and declared it was “the best thing I had done in my life. I loved being with the children and helping them out.”

Ironically, the women said, the theme of the mission was how to deal with stress and anxiety in life. They arrived in Haiti on Jan. 7 and spent their days working with the children, handing out gifts from sponsors and praying. After the quake, they continued with the mission.

The quake brought “hundreds and hundreds people to the mission where they camped outside,” they said.

One reason the dorm building didn’t collapse was because the founder of Lifeline, Bob DeVoe, was an architect and used rebar in the construction, Taylor said.

The day after the quake, Jan. 13, several women walked to Grand Goave, a town of about 4,700 people.

“Ceilings were where the floors used to be and the streets were cracked and buckled,” Thompson said.

It was heart wrenching to hear the townspeople cry out for help, Taylor said, adding many Haitians poured into the missionary grounds.

“Many of the people weren’t sure what had happened,” Thompson said. “They knew about hurricanes but they didn’t know about earthquakes.”

Afraid to sleep inside the buildings at Lifeline, the 58 women on the mission pulled mattresses and blankets to a field.

“We were guarded by Haitians who looked out for us before even leaving the grounds to look for their own families,” Taylor said.

Chuckling, they said they were less afraid of the tarantulas, poisonous scorpions and cockroaches skittering throughout the field than sleeping inside.

From Jan. 13 to Jan. 17, when they left in a U.S. Air Force cargo plane, they saw their share of devastation and desperation.

In the first days after the quake, there were only a few nurses to care for the injured. They recall using dental floss to tie the umbilical cords for six women who gave birth the night of the quake and the day after.

“One child had a broken leg and we had to use flour and water to make a cast and then dry it with a hairdryer,” Taylor said, adding that towels and duct tape were used to bandage a child’s arm that had been cut off.

There were moments when they felt helpless.

Taylor recalls witnessing the grief and hearing the screaming when some family members learned four sisters had been crushed.

Thompson recalls seeing a mother and father standing above their baby who was covered with a blanket on the ground.

“What we saw was worse than what you are seeing on the television or in the newspaper,” Thompson said.

“It’s more than one or two pictures. It’s buildings in a row that are now down and gone. It’s the piercing screams of people in pain. It was devastating to see the pain.”

Since returning they have shared their stories with the residents at Mt. Angel Towers and Thompson and Taylor with the members of Silverton’s Assembly of God Church.

Taylor, Peters and Thompson said they all would like to return to Haiti with Lifeline to help where they can.
Thompson said she’s tried to regain normalcy in her life by sticking to a routine.

“For me, the hardest part is at night when it starts quieting down and I start reflecting on what I have gone through,” she said.

It’s then she takes a moment to realize she has to take things minute by minute.

“This trip has made me appreciate life more and realize how blessed I really am,” Thompson said. “Things that mattered before don’t matter so much anymore.”

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