The impact of the devastating Haitian earthquake has affected many area residents, including two locals who survived the temblor, as well as those who are responding with an outpouring of support for the earthquake victims.
Still feeling the aftershocks of the Haitian earthquake on Jan. 12, Florence Germain sprang into action. Drawing on the skills she learned as a nurse at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, she began to do all she could to help the injured at Portau Prince Airport, where she and family members had been waiting to board a flight back to the United States.
One of the injured was a man Germain encountered outside the airport, whose bones were badly broken and whose foot was attached to his leg by just a muscle, she said.
“There was nothing to do other than to ask the police for bandages,” she said during an interview on Jan. 16. “The man still had feeling in his leg. It’s such a shame that we couldn’t get him somewhere to save it.”
Using her quick thinking and nursing training, Germain, who is believed to have been the only nurse at the airport following the quake that leveled much of Port-au- Prince, used airport rum as an antiseptic and made makeshift tourniquets for people with severed limbs.
Next, the Eatontown resident turned her attention to a 19-month-old baby crying loudly who had sustained a broken arm and was covered in scratches. The baby’s mother was also injured.
“I grabbed iodine and cleaned their wounds. You want to do more, but you just can’t,” said Germain, a nurse in Riverview’s Stroke Unit.
At around the same time that Germain was waiting to board her plane, Lindsay Doran left her room and stopped in at the gift shop in the Hotel Montana in Port-au- Prince on Jan. 12, then headed out to the pool area, where she met up with other Lynn University students around the time the earthquake hit.
“My first thoughts were, this isn’t real,” she said during an interview on Jan. 16. “It’s basically a living nightmare.”
Doran, Rumson, believes that going to the gift shop likely saved her life. She and the other students remained on a grassy hill near the site of the hotel that collapsed as a result of the temblor.
The students had traveled to Haiti to work with Food for the Poor, a nonprofit that ministers in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was the second trip for Doran, a Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School grad, who had traveled to Jamaica to work with the nonprofit last year.
Doran, 19, was one of 14 students and faculty members traveling from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., on a relief mission titled “Journey for Hope.”
The group arrived on Jan. 11, a day before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the country and demolished the HotelMontana, where the group was staying.
Germain, who is a Haitian citizen, had returned to Haiti on Jan. 5 with her husband, son and five other family members to attend her father’s funeral.
She and family members arrived at the airport at around 3 p.m. on Jan. 12 and were about to board their return flight home to New Jersey close to 5 p.m. when the ground began shaking.
The ceiling began to crumble, and Germain covered her 8-year-old son with her body to protect him from the falling debris. Her husband, Kency, grabbed their son and got him outside to safety.
Germain, her mother, brother, sister, nephew and niece were on the second floor of the airport during the quake’s second impact, when more of the building came crashing down.
The scene was chaotic, she said, with people pushing one another in an attempt to flee the collapsing building.
“The doors locked automatically and people started trying to escape,” she said.
“Thank God he came back, because we wouldn’t have gotten out,” she said.
Once outside, Germain and her family were told by Haitian police officers to stay together for safety. They remained outside the airport until approximately 3 a.m. They saw devastation and chaos and could hear the sound of looters nearby.
“We kept hearing gunshots and watched as people pulled their family members from the debris. There were so many bodies,” she said.
Germain has worked at Riverview for eight years, first as an aide and then as a nurse, and credits that training for the care she was able to provide to victims.
“The experience there told me not to panic. I brought the skills I learned and did what I could. I’m not talking about surgery, just preventing infection and assisting, trying to get them help,” she said.
Germain and four family members lost their passports in the confusion and had to go to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to be granted permission to return to the U.S. There they were given water and spent the day, still feeling the aftershocks.
“The embassy is the only building standing. They did a great job, and I’m very appreciative,” she said.
While at the embassy, Germain was thanked by the family of the man she had assisted the previous day, and on the plane ride home she saw the baby she had helped.
“It’s so sad. That’s why I became a nurse, to help. It’s breaking my heart, this helpless feeling,” Germain said.
She and her family members were transported to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 13. At midnight on Jan. 15, Germain returned to her Eatontown home.
Doran’s roommate and good friend, Brittany Gengel, 19, of Rutland, Mass., stayed behind to nap when Doran left for the gift shop. Doran guessed that Gengel was either in bed or in the shower when the quake hit.
“I’m praying that she’s going to be safe,” Doran said, fighting back tears.
Doran and seven other students survived the earthquake. Four students and two Lynn University professors were still missing as she spoke.
During an interview arranged by the university on Jan 16, five of the rescued students said it was by chance that they found their way to the U.S. Embassy.
“By sheer luck and by sheer blessing, we came to our final destination,” said student Tom Schloemer.
The group that had waited out the quake on the hill ran into U.S. Embassy worker Angela Chaiener, who was dining at the hotel at the time of the quake, and she guided the students to the safety of a U.S. military escort.
“She had a radio and a walkie-talkie, and she became our mother for the trip,” Schloemer said.
“You can’t imagine what the ride down was like, seeing all the bodies and everybody in the streets,” said student Nikki Fantauzzi.
Doran’s group was flown to Santo Domingo on a military transport plane and eventually to Boca Raton, where they were reunited with their families.
The Doran family flew to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, where they were reunited with their daughter at the Lynn University campus at midnight on Jan. 15.
According to a statement released by the university on Jan 17, rescue efforts are ongoing.
“In Haiti this morning, as in the Dominican Republic, university agents and friends are continuing the work of combing hospital lists, embassy rolls and transportation centers for news of our missing four students and two faculty members,” university spokesman Jason Hughes wrote in an email.
The school contracted with a private company to conduct search and rescue efforts for those still missing.
During a conference call on Jan. 16, Hughes said contractors engaged by the school have been working around the clock at the site of the hotel collapse.
Although she survived unscathed, Germain remains haunted by the tragedy.
“I will never forget the things in my head, the images of bodies everywhere,” she said.
Germain spoke of the importance of helping the Haitian community.
“I would go back. I would’ve stayed if my son weren’t with me. I have family that’s still there, and help has not yet reached them. A lot of help is needed, and timing is limited. People can’t go without food and water. They need more supplies. So many people were hurt, not just those in Port-au-Prince. All of Haiti is affected,” she said.
“God gave me the opportunity to learn to help people, so that’s what I do. If I can apply what I’ve learned, I will,” said Germain.
Back at Riverview, Germain said she has received an outpouring of support from her colleagues.
“I had tons of texts and messages. I went into work on Friday just to thank everybody. I work with great people,” Germain said.
“They gave me a good opportunity here and great experience. I wouldn’t have been able to help as much if it weren’t for the training I received here.
“I’m not a hero. I didn’t do anything a good Samaritan wouldn’t do.”
Within days of the earthquake, an outpouring of support began from across different communities.
Much of the relief effort is being channeled to the Coalition for Haitian American Empowerment of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (CFHAE), a nonprofit community organization in Asbury Park.
Inside their office at 1310 Asbury Ave., the group is launching a movement to engage the public’s help and to rebuild Haiti.
“We have become the center for what’s going on, at least for Monmouth,” Jean Saraison, spokesman for the CFHAE, said on Jan. 15. “We are collecting blankets, clothing, nonperishable food, but the immediate needs are medical supplies, bandages, feminine products and money. Money is the first line of defense.”
So far, the response has been very positive. Food, cases of water and other supplies were stored in the back room of the office, where there is a closet full of donated items, and more continue to pour in.
“To me, that’s a lot,” Saraison said, pointing to cases of food and water. “We just started, and we get this response … that’s amazing. The donations started late last night from individual people. We have 27 cases of water that one person gave.”
Medical aid is also in high demand. Rony Jean-Charles, the coalition secretary, and nurse Myrtha Antoine are organizing a trip to Haiti with youth members of the coalition to help earthquake victims and to rebuild the villages.
The trip will be paid for directly out of pocket, not from the coalition’s budget.
“We are paying for it with our own money, not the money we collect,” Jean- Charles said. “All the money we collect goes straight to Haiti.”
Henri-Christian Louis, president of the coalition, is arranging to ship the aid to Haiti through organizations already established in the region.
Tara Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Jersey Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, said Friday that Monmouth County has an “enormous” Haitian population, primarily in Ocean Township, Asbury Park and Neptune.
“We have been providing mental health counseling to those people who have been notified that they have lost loved ones,” Kelly said. “We have been a resource for those who are looking for family members. We’ve had an enormous amount of foot traffic, for those looking for people, coming in, that either want to donate or volunteer.”
The 70,000-square-foot facility in Tinton Falls is one of 12 disaster hubs in the country. The Shore chapter is on standby alert, poised to ship relief supplies.
“As we get permission to bring the equipment in, we will pretty much go up the coast to different warehouses and deplete the supplies,” Kelly said.
In Port-au-Prince, communication and travel services are severely damaged. According to the Red Cross, the airport tower is unreliable, and therefore many flights are being diverted, and the cranes needed to unload boats have been damaged.
She said the streets are covered with debris, and rubble and bodies lie underneath the fallen debris.
“Bridges are out, roads are closed, and it is extremely hard to get to the affected areas, but we are doing the best we can,” Kelly said. “We’ve gotten multiple teams of people in the affected areas assessing the damage. We’ve also been asked by the U.S. Navy to supply blood. The shipment went out last night from the military base in Florida. They set up a command hospital on one of the ships outside of Guantanamo Bay, which is housing Red Cross supplies and blood.”
The Red Cross had raised $37 million nationally as of Friday, she said. Out of that number, $9 million came from textmessage donations.
“It far exceeded what we saw in Katrina,” Kelly said.”
Diana Noble, a volunteer with the Jersey Coast Chapter and chairwoman of the Mission Matawan Project at the First Presbyterian Church in Matawan, said the church is encouraging residents to drop off medical supplies and nonperishable food items at the Coalition for Haitian American Empowerment.
“Through the American Red Cross, we have become aware of resources that are available to us,” Noble said. “Our message is to pray, give and act. Some members of the public may feel the need to donate goods and supplies.”
The First Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of Highway 34 and Franklin Street, will also be creating Gift of the Heart baby and hygiene kits that will be shipped to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) fund, a volunteer-based program enabling congregations and mission partners to assist the needy in times of crisis.
Kits for infants should contain six cloth diapers, two T-shirts or undershirts, two washcloths, two gowns or sleepers, two diaper pins, one sweater or sweatshirt, and two receiving blankets.
Hand towels, washcloths, wide-tooth combs, soap, Band-Aids, nail clippers and toothbrushes are needed for the hygiene kit.
For 16 years, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Keyport has been paired with Notre Dame de Bons Secours, a Haitian parish in Pignon, Haiti. The group supports four schools and sends loans to help local farmers and businesses buy supplies and livestock.
The earthquake, however, has cut off Internet and phone services to the area, which has a population of about 70,000, said Tonie Malone, coordinator of St. Joseph’s Haitian Parish Twinning Program.
“We haven’t been able to reach them, but we think they’re OK because they’re out of the worst affected area,” she said.
The same can’t be said for Matthew 25 House, the group’s clinic in Port-au- Prince. The upstairs area is uninhabitable, but the building’s foundation and lower level appear to be secure, according to an email from missionaries who were at the site when the temblor struck.
“Eventually, three Haitian doctors showed up, I think when they heard we had supplies,” the email reads. “We worked ’til about one in the morning. We were also one of the few houses to have power with our inverters and batteries, so we set up three or four lights on the soccer field to help with the treatment. The hospitals are either badly damaged or destroyed and have stopped taking patients as they are overwhelmed.”
While no one at Matthew 25 House was injured in the quake, others with ties to the group are dead or missing, Malone said.N
arette Charles, a Pignon woman who was scheduled to take over the clinic later in the year, was interning at a Port-au- Prince hospital when the earthquake struck. She has not been seen since, Malone said. Also, Ed Andre, of Asbury Park, one of the group’s committee members, lost his father when his house in Haiti collapsed.
Malone said the group is working on sending money and medical supplies directly to contacts on the island, but entering the country is difficult.
“Ports are destroyed, and the airport and roads clogged,” she said. The annual delegation scheduled for Jan. 26 to Pignon will most likely have to be postponed until later in the year, she said.
Staff writers Daniel Howley, Jacqueline Hlavenka and Tom Shortell contributed to this story.