Thursday, March 18, 2010
The following report is a personal account of Haiti’s January 12 earthquake as seen through the eyes of The Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Lucien Lamartiniere. It was submitted by Stacy Howard, Public Information Officer for The Salvation Army’s Haiti Incident Command in Port-au-Prince.
Jan. 12, 2010 – 3:30 PM.
He described it as any other afternoon. The Salvation Army’s Haiti Divisional Commander Lucien Lamartiniere wrapped up a meeting at the Divisional Headquarters building. It ran later than expected.
The Major dropped his wife Marie off at a friend’s house. He noted this as being the first time ever, she didn’t want to go straight home with him, but wanted to visit her friend.
Major Lamartiniere planned to stop at the store to buy a drink. He forgot, and headed home.
He stood in his kitchen where he opened the fridge to grab a drink. The earth shook, his house began to crumble around him and in what he says “felt like forever” he ran outside. His gate was locked. The earth still shook – hard enough to break the gate open. He ran into the street where he watched his own house and his neighbors’ collapse. “I thought it was the end of the Earth,” Lamartiniere said.
The shaking stopped. In less than one minute, one of the most devastating earthquakes in history nearly demolished an entire country. He called his wife. No answer. He walked to search for her. When he finally arrived at her friend’s house, he breathed a sigh of relief as their house still stood. But Marie had left – to search for him.
Marie returned home, to see their car smashed under the caved-in house. She feared the worse.
Major Lamartiniere arrived on foot, back at his house where he reunited with his wife.
Two months later he shares his story as if it happened yesterday. Watching his eyes it’s clear every time he speaks of the quake he’s immediately taken back to the time, the place, the fear…and the hope.
He credits four miracles from God, as the reasons he survived what at least 230,000 others did not.
1. The meeting ran late. Had it finished earlier the participants likely would have been shopping in a location where most buildings fell.
2. Marie went to her friend’s house to visit. The house survived, while hers did not. She would have been in her own kitchen preparing dinner. The roof caved in over the kitchen and dining room.
3. The Major forgot to stop at the store. That store no longer exists.
4. His instinct told him to run, the second the shaking started. Many Haitians’ deaths are said to be due to lack of understanding in how to properly escape. Many thought they should stay inside for shelter.
Since the day that forever changed Haiti, Lamartiniere says many people who never sought The Salvation Army’s services before, now flock to the organization for help. The staff originally found some food that survived in storage and began cooking meals for those in need.
Once The Salvation Army established an Incident Command to spearhead the relief efforts, people began to form a tent city camp next to the former Divisional Headquarters, school and clinic which partially collapsed. With aid from around the world, The Salvation Army began its ongoing food distributions which now feed 20,000. One camp member expressed his gratitude to the Incident Command Team. “Without The Salvation Army we would die. Thank you.”
The Majors still live in a tent in the former Divisional Headquarters’ parking lot. They wanted and needed to be with their people, to let them know they were there beside them.
Major Lamartiniere’s primary hope for the future is to move people into permanent housing outside Port-au-Prince.
His outlook is simple. “I know The Salvation Army can’t do everything…but we’re going to be here to do what we can.”
The Salvation Army set up a Haiti relief fund and is accepting monetary donations. Donors may contribute $10 via their phone bill by text messaging the word “HAITI” to 52000, and confirming the donation with the word, “Yes.” Donors can also give via www.salvationarmyusa.org, 1-800-SAL-ARMY and through the mail at: The Salvation Army World Service Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 630728, Baltimore, MD 21263-0728 with designation “Haiti Earthquake.”