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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A letter from Haiti

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In the Jan. 13 issue of The Monett Times, we published a story about former area residents Steve and Faith (Vore) Leach and their son, Jacob, who currently serve as missionaries in Haiti. The Leaches were in Port-Au-Prince on the day of devastating earthquake and have provided the newspaper with an account of what they experienced, which is reprinted below.

By Steve Leach

Faith and I moved to Haiti with our four small children almost 14 years ago. Since then we have raised our children and operated a small mission hospital in a remote part of northwest Haiti. One of our responsibilities is to go to Port au Prince every six to eight weeks to purchase supplies both for the hospital and our family.

It is not a trip that we look forward to as it takes 10 to 12 hours of driving over very poor roads to get there; then three days of driving around in the city trying to

find everything we need, followed by another long trip home. We have always stayed at the CSI (Christian Service International) guest house in upper Port au Prince. The folks who operate it are like family, and the guest house has truly been our home away from home for over 13 years. Faith and I had driven in on Sun. Jan. 10 for one of those trips.

Faith was originally scheduled to attend meetings the first two days at the Gheskio Bureau. Our little hospital partners with them in the effort to provide treatment for AIDS in our remote corner of Haiti and these meetings were to discuss changes in the program. They had decided to postpone the meetings, but we needed to go purchase supplies anyway so we went to Port.

We spent Monday, Jan. 11 purchasing medical supplies, doing some banking and working on renewing our resident visas (which required us to turn in our visas and passports). The next day we planned to spend the entire day downtown in the old original part of Port au Prince.

Traffic is so bad getting to and from downtown that we always try to do everything we need to do there in one trip. Most trips this requires almost an entire day down there. I say "down there" both figuratively and literally since the guesthouse is up the mountains several miles and downtown is along the bay. The figurative part has to do with how crowded and depressing it can be just being "down there." In a city with over a million people and very little sewage facilities everything tends to run "down there." We had a very productive day down town and accomplished all we had hoped to (which is unusual). Our last stop downtown was the Gheskio bureau. Even though our meetings had been

canceled we still needed to go there and turn in some accounting reports. The Gheskio bureau sits in a particularly polluted part of the city in an area that once was in the bay but has been filled and built on. The building has been added onto several time and is like a maze inside.

I stayed in the truck out front parked right next to the building, (there is almost no parking space), while Faith went to turn the reports in. I have spent a fair amount of time in recent years sitting in front of this building and have many times noticed how the ground jiggles up and down when heavy trucks go by on the street about 50 feet away.

I have also sat there and wondered what would happed if an earthquake were to come ripping through that area. I have also wondered what would happen to the tens of thousands of homes built one on top of the other going up the sides of the mountains and crowded into narrow ravines.

I will return to our trip, but this seems like a good time to discuss the fact that anyone with any understanding of the history of Port au Prince (a terrible earthquake 200 years age and faults running underneath the city), along with a basic understanding of what poorly constructed concrete block houses stacked one on top of the other would do some day, could see that it was only a matter of time until this tragedy happened.

I have said to Faith many times over the years, "I hope we are not here in the city when the Quake comes." However, mankind has a habit of building up scenarios for tragedy and then acting shocked when it happens. It is in man's nature to flock to the cities in poor countries and and build shelter wherever he can. Haitians are not unique in this.

We left the Gheskio bureau and that part of town about two and a half hours before the quake. We have been told that that entire area was destroyed including the Gheskio bureau. We went on our way to transact other business unaware that we were parting with people for the last time.

After a few other stops, we were ready to head to Caribbean Market to purchase some groceries and exchange some money. For 13 years we have shopped for groceries almost exclusively at this place. They also allow us to write an American check and exchange it for Haitian money. I was very much wanting to get there and exchange some money since we had very little in hand.

As we were headed there Faith asked about one other item that we had been looking to purchase and if we should stop at another place and look for it. I reluctantly agreed and we did find the item which took more time. After we left there, we continued on our way to Caribbean Market but traffic was bad and it got later and at the last minute we decided to wait until the next morning to go there.

Instead we went back to the guest house and unloaded the supplies that were in the truck. Faith went upstairs to our room, and I sat on the porch visiting with a friend. When the earthquake started it was a tremble and we immediately stepped out into the yard. Within a few seconds the tremble had turned into a strong shake, and I turned to look at the building. At that moment something much like a wave went through the ground and I saw the entire building sway back and forth about two feet. It is a two-story building made of concrete block and poured concrete pillars, floors and roofs. As it swayed I realized that it might actually collapse, and I remembered Faith was upstairs so I decided to go get her.

As I started toward the porch, a second wave came though the ground and all the windows on the porch shattered and much of the first floor walls started to break apart and collapse. I remember very clearly thinking, "If it doesn't stop shaking, the house will collapse before I can get to her and the kids will lose both of us. I have to wait."

Thankfully about then it started to taper off and within 10 seconds I was able to enter the house and work my way through the rubble to the second floor where I found Faith standing in our room, which didn't have a single crack in any of its walls. This in spite of the fact that the two interior walls underneath that room were rubble.

I went from terrified that Faith might be hurt or killed to very angry that she was looking for her shoes and

grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out. She said the shock of the quake coupled with the fact that in our room nothing was breaking apart made her unaware of the fact that the house was about ready to fall in.

The Caribbean Market that I was so hot to get to completely collapsed, four floors of concrete one on top of the other. Had we not changed our minds, we would undoubtedly been inside of it. We have a friend who had just walked out of it and was in the parking lot when it collapsed. How many times in our lives do we walk by death and even brush shoulders with it but are not aware that it has happened?

We spent the first night on the street and then in our truck listening to the never ending wails of people crying for the dead but also the singing of hymns and prayers of thanks that they were alive. I don't know how many dead there are but 100,000 seems like a conservative estimate to me, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was double that.

A very large densely populated area of almost exclusively concrete structures lay in ruin. Many of these houses have 20 or more people living in them. Few have less than 10.

The next day we decided toward evening that we should try to go home on Thursday if possible since we had a truck load of medical supplies for the hospital and funds for the hospital. Haiti has a history of people blocking the roads in time of trouble, and we decided our first obligation was to the hospital and the people of Bombardopolis.

God granted us a safe trip home. We are now helping the mayor of Bombardopolis coordinate efforts to bring the many children of Bombarde that attend school in Port Au Prince home if possible. We have pledged some funds to help with this.

I know that many countries are gearing up for a big relief effort. This is so important, because we fear that if security and supplies are not quickly brought in many tens of thousands could die from disease, hunger, thirst and violence.

Here in Bombarde there is no physical damage. However, Haiti is a country in which every family has relatives in Port au Prince. I would not be surprised if a quarter of the population lives in the capitol.

This means that it is a tragedy for the entire country, and the effects both psychological and material will be felt by the entire country.

There are so many other things that I could tell, but I think that I will stop for now and try to get this sent out if we can get a signal. Please pray for this poor, sad little country, which has had so much tragedy in recent years and now has one greater than all the others combined.

Steve and Faith Leach

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