An impossible escape -- Tuesday, Feb 16
Today I got to take a ride through parts of the city I hadn't seen. The first destination was a very important spot. We went with Erta to the University Concorde. Erta was in a classroom in the college building when the earthquake hit. Erta was trapped in the building for a short time, but she miraculously crawled out with only a sprained ankle. I will tell Erta's story more completely in a separate post.
(Erta is on the left in the photo above, holding Estaline. This photo was taken on the day of the quake by Jim Duggan of Mission Viejo Community Church.)
As you can see in the other photo, the college is a complete wreck. I have seen dozens of collapsed buildings around Port-au-Prince, but none is more completely destroyed than this one. With most collapsed buildings, there is enough left to enable you to imagine what it looked like before it collapsed. With University Concorde, you have no idea. It looks like someone took a giant bag of bricks, cement block, pillars, and wooden beams, and dumped it out in a gigantic pile.
I stared open-mouthed at the mound of rubble and thought, "There is no way anyone got out of here alive." And yet Erta had.
Erta and I walked all around the former structure. She showed me the back of the building where her brother was standing on a balcony when the earthquake struck. He escaped with injuries to his leg and torso, but the fact that he is alive is astonishing. There is nothing left of the place where he was. The balcony's metal railing lays half buried in debris.
Behind the building we talked with a young man who was also inside when the earthquake hit. He ran out the doors and escaped just as the building was crashing down behind him. It sounded like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.
Erta and I walked over the top of the rubble heap, looking for the place where she had emerged from the building. She had gotten turned around in the chaos of those cataclysmic moments, and she was confused about where she had come out. Erta showed me where her classroom had been. Protruding defiantly from the rubble is a chipped but intact corner of the green chalkboard. You can still read what was written on it. Strewn across the top of the heap were a handful of mangled desks and other pieces of blackboard, also eerily displaying the chalk writing of school work done on January 12th. Before we made our way off of the top of the heap, I caught a whiff of the unmistakeable scent of death. Not everyone made it out of the school, and apparently not all the bodies have been recovered. Many buildings closer to downtown still have that sickening odor.
Erta and I wandered around to the side of the building we hadn't seen yet, and here she made a great discovery. There was a hole just big enough for a person to crawl out of. Could this be her route of escape? She had previously described to me crawling toward the light and finding a blue chair with a black flower pot under it. She had moved the flower pot, crawled under the chair, and fell forward out of the building onto a pile of bricks a few feet below. We approached the hole to investigate. There, in the opening, was the seat and legs of a blue plastic chair with a black metal frame. It was wedged under a massive cement slab that had come crashing down but had stopped, creating a space that was about 20 inches high. We peered under the chair into the darkness, and there was the black flower pot. This was it! Here was the opening God provided for Erta to emerge from destruction into new life.
I still find it hard to believe Erta survived in that building. The space between the collapsed ceiling and the floor was just high enough for her to move around. What is more, there was an opening just big enough for her to squeeze through and get out.
Erta is one of a kind. She fills the guest house with laughter and banter. She shepherds the girls of the orphanage and is wise beyond her 21 years. She has become like another daughter to me. Everyone here is overjoyed that her life was preserved on that horrific day!