"We've never seen anything like this!"
Interview with Celigny Darius, National Director of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti (15 January 2010)
Please describe how you experienced the earthquake and the situation at the national office in Port-au-Prince:
This is the first time we've experienced anything like this, it was truly terrifying. On the day the earthquake hit, we were in the office, it was around 5pm. I just had time to leave the building, even though I fell and had to crawl outside. I thought the house was going to collapse, it was really terrible. There were five of my staff members on the second floor who all started to run and tried to get outside. The whole house was shaking and I thought "It's going to collapse and they're all going to die"! The anguish of seeing them up there on the second floor and not being able to help them was just horrible.
When the earthquake was over, they were still so shocked they didn't know how to get out of the building and asked me whether they could make it by jumping out the windows. I told them they couldn't and to take the stairs. One part of the office collapsed, but luckily, there were no casualties in the national office. Afterwards we all tried to reach our families but couldn't, since communication lines had broken down. This was a dreadful experience. I live near the office and my wife was not answering the phone. I was convinced they were dead, since we live on the fourth floor and I had been told the building had collapsed. It wasn't until some hours later that my wife called and told me that both she and my daughter were safe.
The buildings next to the office have collapsed and there are many children and students trapped beneath the rubble. The church just up the road collapsed onto the congregation; burying the faithful. Efforts to dig out the bodies have not been successful and the stench of decay is becoming unbearable.
What is the situation of those staff members whose houses collapsed?
The houses of three or four SOS staff members - we can't be sure - have collapsed, but at the moment even those whose houses were left standing are staying in the streets, because there is no way of knowing if buildings are safe or might collapse at any minute. There have been no deaths in the families of staff, at least as far as we know. The day of the earthquake everyone spent the night in the part of the office that had not been destroyed. Everybody is now in the streets and I am trying to get a place for them to stay at the SOS Children's Village in Santo.
What is needed most urgently?
The most urgent thing now are medical supplies, especially painkillers, because many have been severely injured by falling debris and the hospital isn't operational, people are dying in the streets. Nothing is open in the capital, no supermarkets, there are no buses, and people are afraid to enter any building out of fear it might collapse at any moment. Since people are sleeping on the street and ran from their houses with only the shirt on their backs, there is also a need for clothing.
What are you doing to help?
We are making water available to people, we open the faucets whenever they are working. We are also trying to round up families from our SOS support programmes, there are four members of staff systematically checking on all the families in the area to see how they can be helped. So far there are two families with deceased family members. The SOS families living inside the SOS Children's Village Santo are fine for the moment because the houses of the village are all still standing. Those outside are much worse off. For the moment, there is not much we can do to help them, aside from giving them water.
Interview: Ivannia Cambronero (Editor at the Regional Office in Costa Rica)