ENCINITAS — Doris Keats had a dream about an earthquake last Monday night only to wake up Tuesday, Jan. 12, to news that Haiti had been rocked by one. Her concern immediately turned to the safety of her friend, Dotty Valdez, who arrived in Port-Au-Prince the day before.
Valdez, a longtime Encinitas resident and former owner of The Outgrown Shop on South Coast Highway 101, was on her second trip to Haiti as part of a small contingent of volunteers bringing supplies to the elderly living at St. Stephen’s Home outside of the capital city. As reports of the devastation trickled in, Keats said she waited anxiously for news of her friend. “I was wondering what happened to them knowing they were there,” she said.
Soon a bright spot appeared on the horizon, as Valdez was able to send a dispatch of sorts to her friends and family Jan. 14. Keats said she was relieved to hear Valdez was safe and began sharing the news with others. “She is very well-known in the community,” she said.
Valdez was driving south on a mountain approximately one hour outside of the capital when the earthquake struck. “The mountain began to collapse, landslides, boulders falling on cars, the road began to shake, crack and houses crumbled,” she wrote. “The car in front of us was hit by boulders, a woman had her foot severed, screams of children, adults and animals everywhere.”
Just a few hours before, Valdez was eating lunch at the Oblate Provincial in Port-au-Prince, which is completely demolished she reported. The group had intended to spend the night there, but decided to travel to their final destination, Les Cayes, a port city in southwestern Haiti instead.
The stroke of good fortune did not stop there for Valdez and her travel companions, Wilma Tibbitts of San Ysidro and Fr. Ray Lacasse OMI. After abandoning their vehicle and personal belongings to travel south on foot in the dark, the three were picked up by a group of United Nations workers from Sri Lanka. “They put us in the back of a big UN truck — also filled with many others — wounded, babies, etc. and took us to the UN camp. The UN treated a few of the wounded, but did not have facilities for the many helpless and homeless,” Valdez wrote. “We were fortunate to be allowed to stay with them.”
Back in the United States, Lisa Valdez Lindgren, Valdez’s daughter, reached her mother via e-mail after the earthquake.
During the first terrifying night after the earthquake, Valdez said aftershocks came frequently and described them as “loud and frightening.” She also recounts the generosity of the United Nations soldiers and relying on faith to get her through the darkness. “The UN soldiers are Buddhists and had a Buddhists shrine erected. Fr. Ray suggested that we all pray together. The soldiers (about 20 or so), knelt and chanted. We joined in with them and it became a very bonding experience. We all prayed to the same God. Everything was all so uncertain, as we had no communication, especially about the roads, etc.”
The group eventually made it to Les Cayes. “We are hearing constant ambulances and UN trucks bringing in the injured from Port Au Prince and other villages. A large hospital tent has been erected in the soccer fields to take care of some of the injured. Food, electricity and gas are now being rationed and more difficult to get. It poured rain last night making it more difficult for those who are living on the streets. The situation is now deteriorating,” Valdez wrote in her second dispatch to family and friends.
In a country without a systematic communication and emergency response system, Keats worries that her friend may not understand the scope of devastation in Haiti. “They’ve been so lucky so far,” she said. “I have a feeling they’ll be alright.”
“Our most reliable communication now are from the seminarians traveling down from Port Au Prince and telling us of the unbelievable devastation they have witnessed,” Tibbitts wrote. “We currently are receiving the priests and seminarians from Port Au Prince who are homeless and have been sleeping on cardboard in the backyard. Eleven seminarians arrived yesterday, disheartened, hungry, tired and overwhelmed. Twelve seminarians (and a lecturer from Brazil) were all killed and the remaining 11 seminarians were instrumental in pulling many from the rubble. Most of these men in addition have lost family members and friends.”
Valdez said the group visited the elderly residents at St. Stephen’s. “It was very uplifting,” she wrote. “The smiles on the faces, tears in the eyes and joy in the voices as they sang us a song of Thanks, made our trip worthwhile. For all of those who contributed your scarves, jewelry, hats, sunglasses, perfume, candy, money and love, the elderly send you their thanks!”
Keats said she’s uncertain when or how Valdez and the others will arrive home. She was scheduled to be back in Encinitas on Jan. 22. Tibbitts writes that she is hopeful they will be transported back to the United States via a military plane.