Most of you already know that our daughters worked in Haiti several summers with a reforestation/empowerment project. The project was conceived and implemented by research and design of a U.C. Santa Cruz graduate, Starry Sprenkle. Starry and Shannamar played basketball for the Slugs and were roommates as well. I you can't read all of this, please skip to the last two paragraphs. The 'Live Presidents" want us to donate Dead Presidents and that is good, but if you have some connections or ideas to make it more effective, Thank You!
Shannamar introduces the letters. Here is a website for the national news of Starry's disappearance:
I left Haiti at the end of summer of 2008, bribing my way onto an American Airlines flight that had been added in an attempt to accommodate the thousands of people who's flights had been cancelled the day before do to tropical storm Fay, myself included. After spending almost three months in the Artibonite working for HTRIP I had reached my limit and was never so anxious to get home to the comforts of my American life, my family and friends...so anxious that I didn't want to risk the chance that not relinquishing my $100 dollar bill would make the difference to me getting on that plane...so I made sure I was. I made it out before the main storm hit and watched on the news as yet another hurricane ravaged the already struggling country. If you haven't heard enough of why Haiti is considered as having been in a constant emergency state for the past 50 years you might take a moment to read this article written before the earth quake (better researched and written than I could produce right now):
As always, I had intended to send out an email about my last month in Haiti and share a few adventure stories... particularly the one about riding on the back of a motorcycle (moto taxi) for 5 hours in an exploration to cross the little used border crossing to the DR in the mountains up from the Artibonite valley, where, arriving on a Saturday, they said they were closed on Sunday and we wouldn't be able to return until Monday. Luckily, I was with a co-worker from Spain and he talked our way across the border and upon asking how he got them to let us cross back the next day he told me he might have suggested to them that I was a Dr. for HAS and had an important operation on Monday that I must be back for. (My passport still has my entrance to the DR without an exit stamp) The boarder was like an ugly, tall, metal portal to another world....with organized streets and buildings, real restaurants and people dancing merengue, salsa, and most especially bachata. Crossing back to Haiti I noticed what I had noticed all summer...little improvements here and there, a town square picked up with a new archway going in, new bridges to replace those washed out by the latest hurricanes...
The next time I was in Haiti was a quick trip in December of 2009, officially to lead the HTRIP agro-technicians in a team building, problem solving work shop, and unofficially to attend Starry's wedding to Erlantz Hyppolite, the Hatian Dr. whose first date with Starry was orchestrated as a chance to allow her and myself to buy him a beer in thanks for hooking me up with cough syrup at the beginning of my 2007 stay that began with the agricultural meeting in Les Cayes, the wasp sting under my eye and the horrible San Fransisco Grip (cough) combined with lower back pain that left me with cough syrup/muscle relaxant hangovers and struggling to stay awake in the fields as Starry ran me through the list of my responsibilities for the summer! And if you are with me and these things strike a bell as in some letter or other of mine that you've glimpsed over, then you will probably want to read these letters that I'll be forwarding from Starry, who if you don't know already, is living in Haiti with her husband and beautiful little girl, Jasmine. I added a few of you to the list that have had the chance to meet Starry in this past year or so that I've been at Davis. While I realize that this is a time like no other that you can find countless information and images from Haiti, for a person who has lived there and loved the people, seen the pride they have for their country and independence, this is the only thing I can do...share her perspective and a little bit of mine.
To all my friends and family that expressed concern over Starry and even over my emotional response to this recent tragedy, thank you....
Starry Sprenkle writes:
We have been hit by two enormous tragedies, in the space of a few hours.
I am sorry for the family that might hear this for the first time here, but since communication has been so difficult, I must put everything up now.
Erlantz’s mother Marie Claude suddenly passed away on the afternoon of January 12.
As he and his family were on their way home from the hospital, their cars rocked and they saw buildings and trees swaying. They continued up to the house on the mountain, and found everything fallen off the walls, and the front door slightly damaged, but the housed stood strong.
I had just left Deschapelles with Jasmine, to go to be with the family in Port. We were racing against darkness, because it’s not a good road to drive at night. We did not feel the quake (it seems it was weaker in the artibonite) but we saw in the area of Dezam that everyone came out of their houses, they were running around on the street, women with their arms thrown wide, some were singing . . . . we didn’t know what happened, we heard ‘kay kraze’ and then we heard ‘tremblement te’ from the people that we asked on the street. Not knowing where the epicenter was, we hoped that it had not affected port and we decided to continue on the road. Mirebalais appeared fine. The sun set as we climbed the mountain. I had no signal on my phone, and the car had no radio, so we were moving along blind. When we got over the top of the mountain, we knew that the situation was bad. There were not enough lights in the city to indicate that the national power system was working, and my cell phone still didn’t work.
As we came down the mountain, we saw at least 4 huge boulders the size of buses in the middle of the highway. There was barely enough space for our car to squeeze between them. There were no cars or people under the boulders, which was a small miracle. I was too rocked with grief to take out my camera and take photos. We went through Croix de Boquets, there was a long wall that had fallen down along the road, trapping people and cars and motorcycles. We saw many collapsed buildings, and everyone was walking on the street. I had a sense that everyone was walking to the houses of their loved ones, trying to find out if they were OK. We saw injured people being helped along and transported in taxis. Others in the car said they saw bodies, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to see. There were few cars moving. We got stuck in 2 hours of traffic to cross a small bridge to get into the city. Jasmine played around in the back of the car. I was surprised and relieved to see the police directing traffic, making sure only one lane of traffic crossed at the time (who was to know how strong the bridge was) but it still was horrible congestion, and made me very afraid that we would not be able to navigate at all when inside the city. Thousands of people were coming out of the city over the bridge on foot.
Soon after we crossed the bridge, the traffic cleared. There were hardly any cars, and I sighed with relief. We sped towards the house. Still no communication via phone, no way to know if the family was OK. We took route Freres, and saw at least 6 buildings collapsed along the road, people staring into them but not really trying to excavate. There was less damage in Peitionville, and hardly any along the Kenscoff road. We finally made it to the house and found it standing but empty. Everyone was at Claudine’s house next door, standing and sitting in the driveway. Everyone was there, except Marie Claude. Jasmine played for a few hours, extremely giddy, before we could get her to sleep around midnight. We decided to sleep in the house that night, though everyone else slept out in their cars. Tremors rocked us in the night, each time we would get up and start running out of the house, but then it would stop.
We were devastated to hear of the damage in the city the next morning. Natutu got CNN up, even though we still had no internet or cell phone signal. I broke down when I saw the image of the national palace. We passed yesterday in shock. We are mourning the loss of Manmi, and trying to cope with the earthquake. It is too much to believe or to process. Watching CNN makes it worse, and they’re not telling the half of the devastation.
Jasmine was very very moody, but I hope that today will be better. We have food and water, and the cars have some fuel, so we will be able to ride out the worst of the chaos. We all slept outside last night, afraid that the aftershocks might make the house fall. I’ve never felt so many aftershocks, in such close succession. We heard a horrible rumor that the 7.0 was a ‘pretremor’ but I don’t believe it.
This morning we had signal on one of our phones (Voila) but we didn’t have enough card to call everyone, and I doubt the service will be reliable. I talked to mom. I’ll keep posting online as long as the net stays up. It seems that kenscoff area is fine. A few small houses fell. We hear that Deschapelles is fine, through word on the street. But the country is not fine. Port au Prince is the heart of this country, the center of its culture and its supply chains, and we have lost unimaginable amounts in lives, buildings, factories. In a family of doctors, they are helpless because of lack of medical supplies. I want to join the relief effort, even just to translate for the help workers, but I also selfishly want to keep my family close to me and out of the chaos (which is probably what will happen, since my husband is very protective). I couldn’t sleep last night. I stared at the stars, thinking of all the people in Haiti sleeping outside, of all the people wondering about their loved ones.
Starry Dawn Sprenkle
The letter I sent previously was the first word I had heard of Starry since the earth quake and was received Thursday morning. (A few of you had already read it) I decided to forward her letters after receiving this one and a private letter from her encouraging me to spread awareness of real needs and relief ideas.) You will see from her observations that though we see press about aid pouring in from all over.. the rate of dispersal leaves a lot to be desired for. My personal response to issues of delivery logistics that include lack of cleared helicopter landing sites as well as disorderly conduct and miscommunication between on-the-ground personnel and desperate Haitians is that the approach could be designed as enabling, rather than helping. If we need clear landing sites, ask the Haitains to clear them. These people are capable and there are leaders among them. I believe that mob energy could be utilized to help the situation and refugee camps built with the eventual goal of having organized work groups formed from each camp. Unless the relief effort becomes more cohesive among factions from around the world, communicating and considering long term affects, this is going to be like taping up a gaping wound with tiny bandaids... maybe the skin will be held together for a time but the tissue underneath is still cut and bleeding. I know the political complications are almost as challenging as the economic...who am I to say what should be done? In a nation with over 80% unemployment... there is a lot of work to be done, and the people to do it, if they can have food and water...
Starry’s Letters Continued
We had to go down into the city to try and get the basic supplies we would need to live the next few weeks- fill our drinking water containers (we, like the majority of the city dwellers, always buy purified water to drink and have a number of 5 gallon jugs, but we weren’t sure if any of the purifying stations would be open), get some canned meat and other food stuffs to fill out the staples we had stocked up on, and matches, and (powdered) milk for the children to drink. We also wanted to check on the condition of some of the houses the family owns in the city, and the condition of the hospitals.
Driving down through the upper extent of the city (Thomassin, Laboule) I noticed that hardly any tap-taps (mass transport) were functioning, and an amazing number of people were walking up the long steep incline. There was little traffic. Peitionville, the richest part of the city, appeared almost untouched. Some walls had collapsed, but not buildings. But we did see that many of the more poorly-constructed homes in Peggyville/Upper Delmas had come down. We drove down Delmas, and about one out of every 8 buildings along the street had collapsed. This is a main business thoroughfare, and these were very large buildings, most of them businesses, with multiple stories, that had collapsed. The street was practically empty, in the absence of the NGO vehicles and tap-taps that normally make up more than half of the traffic. All the gas stations were closed, and we had no idea when they would open, so people were only using their cars if they had to. All of the businesses were closed- the small grocery stores, the banks, etc. We found two teeny tiny poorly stocked pharmacies open after an extensive search. The city is literally shut down, people are just in shock, not doing anything. Or, perhaps more tragic, they’re moving, walking with a small suitcase on their head to who knows where. I saw maybe 200 people walking like that.
We saw so many collapsed buildings, and absolutely no excavation attempts. A very large (3-story) and successful supermarket (Carribean) had collapsed completely, and there was a crane parked in it’s parking lot, but it was not functioning and they had closed off the area. There was one small tractor, which was busy clearing the roads. We had to take side streets a few times when the main road was blocked with rubble, and there our path was often blocked by downed power lines or houses that had collapsed into the street.
We went to OFATMA, a state hospital, that was full of cracks. They were keeping patients in the courtyards, and Cuban doctors who are a constant presence in Haiti were doing surgery in the open air under a small roof. They said they were having to amputate frequently because they had no real means to treat the wounds. I was amazed at how few patients there were. Maybe 10. The hospital had lost some of it’s staff in the disaster, and may others had simply not come to work, so they hardly had any staff.
We passed through Delmas to Belair. On the way we continued to see maybe 1/8 of the buildings collapsed. I saw only one excavation attempt- and it was two men with a shovel. We parked behind a fallen power pole and walked up to the house that Erlantz’s father had bought long ago. It was a very low one-story house, and it was still standing, but on either side of it and across the street all the buildings had collapsed. The neighbors said that each house had had people in it, and they were dead in there, but no one could do anything. We could smell the bodies. We heard no one calling for help. Of all the houses I saw, they had almost all collapsed so flat that I can’t imagine there were survivors. We heard stories of many people, even young children, who had dug themselves out of their collapsed homes- I assume those homes had not pancaked. I assume that many able-bodied people did that, and those left trapped alive were often elderly or very young.
We came down onto Champs Mars past the collapsed cathedral, and saw that most of the official buildings of the state had collapsed. Below there, called “Anba la ville”, had maybe a 1/5 ratio of collapses. This is the bustling business district, with many many large buildings in it. Some of the ones standing were full of cracks and obviously posed an additional threat. We went to the General Hosptial, the only public hospital in the city and the center of health care for the poor, and again most of the patients were outside, on dilapidated hospital beds covered with makeshift tents made of sheets for shade. The Haitian doctors had set up a small triage room in one building. Again, hardly any staff, and hardly any medical supplies. No NGOs in sight, but plenty of journalists. There were dead bodies everywhere. There were dumptrucks lined up outside the hospital, supposedly to cart away the dead bodies, but they just seemed to be parked.
Champs mars, like all the public spaces we passed, was full of makeshift tents and people that had either lost or couldn’t go back in their houses. Every vacant lot we passed was full of people like this, they were often camped in the middle of the streets, afraid to go back into the buildings that were still standing. There was a noticeable lack of people selling anything. Occasionally we saw people making food to sell.
Just above La Ville, in Paco, was the worst devastation I saw. Maybe more than half the buildings were destroyed. We passed the Canape Vert park by the hospital (which was the same scene- building cracked and empty, triage on the lawn, with few patients, dead bodies) and the damage was less- a few buildings that were on very steep slopes had fallen downslope, but going up the Canape Vert road there were hardly any fallen buildings, and of course up in Peitionville everything looked normal. I’m giving these details in case they might reach people who are wondering about their family in Port, because they’ll know which zone their family lived in. We actually found a small semblance of a street market in lower Peitionville, and we got the necessities we were seeking, except for diesel. There was a gas station rationing out petrol to people with containers only (not vehicles), but the line was too long and the probability that it would be gone by the time we got to the front was too great.
We drove back to our house, and were relieved to find it still standing. His brother Nathaelf, who had gone down in a separate car, had found a supermarket that was partially collapsed and was liquidating its supplies, so he had been able to get three packs of diapers (Jaz and his son are the same size) and some other necessities, to add to what we had found on the street. Erlantz and I decided to sleep in our old room for the first time since the disaster, even though half the family preferred to sleep out in their cars again in case the houses collapse. I felt a few aftershocks in the night. You can hear them coming, and then the shaking starts, but they are much weaker now. I hope hope hope that the house is sound. We’re going to leave our most essential items- passports, milk supply, a few pairs of clothes- in our car outside the house at all times. There’s no way we could move everything out- there’s nowhere safe to put it, if we did. The family has never finished the fences around their property up here, because security is much less of an issue in this part of the city, but now I wish we had. Although, if we had made big cement walls as is common, they probably would have collapsed anyway!
I can’t imagine that if trained excavation teams arrive in the next few days, that they’ll find many survivors. The majority of the people here aren’t trying to dig anyone out, they presume everyone dead, and there’s no way they could cover the sheer quantity of fallen buildings. I must have seen 400, just near the road doing one loop through the city. The fatality count will be huge. The city is FULL of people that are now homeless. It’s not too cold here this time of year, but it might rain. They can’t keep living in the streets and parks. These are people that are already used to having no running water, to bathing and washing their clothes in polluted rivers, to eating just one meal a day. They have lost that small, simple, piece of the world that they could call home, the roof over their heads, their hearth and their beds (which for the majority were probably very simple, and shared by many family members, but still they were beds). It is just SO UNFAIR that even this small luxury is stripped from them.
I expect that many of them might go and seek their family in the countryside, because I can’t imagine that they will be able to reconstruct their homes or find new ones very soon or very easily. The destruction is all the more devastating because people here invest in their homes, often instead of putting money in the bank, they will add a level, or build out. Homes are the main investment. In Haiti, hardly any home looks ‘finished’, people are always gradually building, whenever they come up with enough extra money for a bag of cement. Therefore the loss of all these buildings is a huge loss of capital for the people. Many families that were relatively wealthy will become poor because of this, unless some serious aid is given to help them rebuild.
Another cruel blow: this is the time of Carnaval. Normally, this is the most fun and joyous time of the year. The city would be having ‘rehearsals’ every Sunday in January, and all the radio talk would be about which band would have the most popular songs. Carnaval is the cultural celebration that the country looks forward to most every year, a simple pleasure that EVERYONE can enjoy, especially the poor. And now, the entire Carnaval season has been wiped out. Who could imagine celebrating at a time like this?
We woke up this morning with a new sense of purpose. Our trip to the city yesterday had made it clear how much they needed medical help in the city- and we had some stockpiles of medical supplies up here, since the entire family are doctors. Erlantz, Claudine, and Rickerdy decided to load up the truck and go down and offer the supplies, and their services, for the day. They took two other people with them, who will try and find diesel fuel (most likely stand in long lines with our 5 gallon fuel jugs) while they work in the hospital courtyards. If we don’t get fuel, we won’t be able to keep on going down to the city, and we won’t have electricity. We have enough for one or two more days. I sent our house’s coordinates to the Embassy in hopes that they might be able to send something, but I understand that we should be a very very low priority compared to everything else that’s going on. I’m staying up here today. I really don’t want to go down to the city again, unless I know I can really help. It was very hard to see.
Back at the house, we started seriously rationing our electricity. We have a generator that runs on diesel, that charges 12 batteries hooked up to an inverter. We have to run it for a few hours to charge the batteries, and then we use that charge until it runs out- usually it lasts about 16 hours and we run it every night. But now we’re powering only our computers and charging our phones and a few fluorescent lights, and we’re trying to make it last four days. We only have enough diesel for a few more charges.
That, obviously, won’t be the end of the world. At least half of Haiti’s population is living without any electricity right now, and they’re used to having it for only a few hours every day, if at all, during normal times. It’s a luxury that we’re used to, because we have the money to pay for our own power. We might decide to go to Deschapelles, in the countryside, where Erlantz and I work. They have running water and electricity there, and access to food would probably be easy since it’s in the agricultural center of the country and was less impacted by the quake. We have a small house on the hospital campus. Thing is, we’d probably be bringing all 20 family members that are now camping out with us!
We turned off the power today, just after noon, which forced me away from the internet (which is a good thing!). Jasmine was taking a nap, and I decided to go for a walk. I took my two young nephews, Keyruld, 8, and Kerrian, 6, with me. They weren’t sure if they could go, because their dad had told them to stay outside the house, but inside the fence, but their grandma said they could come. It felt great to stretch my legs and walk, and the sun was shining bright. We saw that some of our neighbors, those with the simplest small houses built from piled rocks and mud, had indeed lost their homes, or had walls fall down. It is the houses built with more concrete that are intact in this area, and the houses of the poorest that are damaged. I couldn’t help but notice that parts of the rock walls that hold up the earthen terraces that the farmers build in this area had fallen. The earth hasn’t started spilling out yet, but if the rains come and they haven’t replaced the broken stones, they will lose the little bit of fertile soil they have built up and downstream will be polluted by erosion.
When we got back, it wasn’t nearly time to turn on the battery power yet, so I joined the rest of the family in front of Claudine’s house. We had a meal of rice, bean sauce, and stewed okra, sitting out in the sun. It will be our one ‘real’ meal of the day. We’re rationing our food carefully. Most of us could use the diet anyway! We set aside food for the three that are down in the city busy volunteering their doctor skills. I held my newest little niece, Kara, who is 2 months old, while her grandmother ate. It was the longest I’d held her at one time up until this point, and she is just beautiful. After the food, the kids had an absolute blast running up and down the driveway pushing toy dumptrucks and tractors (in addition to Keyruld and Kerrian, there was Christian who is 2 and Jasmine who is almost 2). They were making a ton of noise, and laughing and screaming, and all us adults had to laugh at the sight of them. I wish I had my camera, to make a video of all the dumptruck power being joyously wasted up here when it is so needed in the city.
We heard from the doctors around noon, they got to the first hospital (OFATMA in Delmas) with the supplies, and very quickly injured people started showing up. Yesterday, when we were there, there were maybe 10 people inside, and no line outside. Well, today it was a case of demand following supply. Word must have spread on the street that the hospital was finally functioning. Soon there were more than 300 patients waiting for them. There were already 3 doctors there, so the 3 of them make only 6 to see them all. Claudine felt the need to stay and work overnight, because they need her anesthesiologist skills to conduct surgeries, but we worried about her baby Kara who is still breastfeeding, and we’re also not sure if we’ll have enough fuel to send a car back down to get her the next day. It’s after 5, and I don’t believe that they’ve started on their way home yet. We don’t know what Claudine decided. Probably they all decided to stay much later, but then go home together. I’m sure they haven’t eaten anything since the small breakfast they had before they left this morning. How could you leave, how could you take a lunch break, with countless patients to tend to?
They all came back together. The hospital didn’t have electricity to function all night, anyway. Even though they couldn’t find any fuel, the hospital where they had volunteered all day had filled their containers with diesel in gratitude (and probably in hopes that they would return!).
But they will not go back down there. The situation in the city is too grim. They did what they could, that day, and the supplies that they brought were the only thing that allowed that hospital to function. They were working, including doing surgery, in the courtyards, because the structure itself is badly fractured and could come down at any moment. Erlantz said that he saw almost all fractures, fractures that had been sitting for days and were festering and would have to be amputated, fractures in all parts of the body. People in bad need of orthopedic surgery. Some internal bleeding cases. Most of what he did was hook up IV lines and prepare people for their amputations, but he knew that without post-op care, and in the city’s squalid conditions, maybe 80% of them will die. And the IV fluids that they brought down were finished by the end of the day. That means that hospital won’t be functioning the next day, unless they get supplies. Some people in charge of planning the relief effort came by (USAID, etc.), and talked to Erlantz and his sister and brother in law. Erlantz suggested better organization at each point offering care, to triage the cases, and to send as many as possible to the countryside where the hospitals are intact and functioning (especially HAS), but who knows if they will listen.
We are disappointed in the lack of overall management of the medical aid effort. If they keep setting up small temporary centers, treating patients then sending them away, they will help a few people, but thousands will die. It is not as efficient as it could be, but who could take control? Our advice to anyone that might listen and be able to influence the effort is that the best care will be given out of the city, and those places must be reinforced and expanded. A huge transportation effort must be launched for not only patients, but the people that are now homeless in the city. They must get out, go back to their families in the countryside, BUT AT THE SAME TIME THE CAPACITY OF THE COUNTRYSIDE MUST BE BOOSTED- IT CANNOT ACCEPT ALL THESE REFUGEES WITHOUT FOOD AID. THEY WILL NEED TO BE ABLE TO TREAT THE INJURED AND ALL THE HIV PATIENTS THAT NEED THEIR MEDICINE, ETC.
The huge majority of the cases will be amputations, and they need more people/supplies to do the amputations, especially anesthesiologists, and all those patients will need to have wound care. If we could set up ‘amputee camps’ with trained nurses and the necessary supplies directly outside of the makeshift amputation centers, where the amputees can recover in moderately sanitary conditions, we might be able to save more people.
Starry Dawn Sprenkle