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Recounting the horror - Jamaican tells of his brush with a 7.0

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Laura Redpath, Senior Gleaner Writer

Ricardo Walters, a Jamaican who arrived in Haiti on January 5, said by the time he left he felt like his liver had moved.

Haiti, to date, has had more than 40 aftershocks since the big earthquake last Tuesday. Walters arrived in Jamaica on Saturday and described Haiti as constantly shaking while he was there.

"The place didn't stop rocking," he said. "Mi liver shift to a different location."

A Digicel team left Jamaica to carry out some work in Haiti. Walters and a co-worker were staying in a private home that was rented for them and two Haitian nationals when the 7.0 earthquake struck.

"I was working from home," Walters said. "I hear a little rumble, then I feel a tremor. In a matter of seconds I could feel a distinct shake."

Running for cover

Exactly one week after arriving in Haiti, Walters found himself running out of the kitchen, leaving his steaming fish on the stove, and running up the stairs.

"I assumed the usual safety position in the door jamb," he said. "Then it started to get more intense.

"The verandah pole started looking like a string in the breeze."

He swayed from side to side to imitate the motions caused by the earthquake.

"I shot up them flight of steps. The same time I was running, the place was shaking."

Walters said the three other persons who were in the house saw him run out the door and followed him.

"The top level where the bedrooms were came right down. Then the house came down."

They made it to a hillside and watched as a thick cloud of dust made its way slowly across the city.

"We could see it coming like a fog."

Not long after, the aftershocks started, one after another.

"The whole place mash up and the place still a shake," he said.

Aftershock in the dark

Walters had seconds to make a judgement call as to where the safest spot to stand was, while buildings came down around him. He noticed a house that was tilted away from him and chose to stand close to it, figuring that when it collapsed it would do so away from him.

He managed to get to open space.

"I said this is my safe spot. I just have to watch the ground if it going open up."

Darkness fell.

Another aftershock.

"Mi seh backfoot, the place a rock again," he exclaimed.

By midnight, Walters was getting really hungry and thirsty. A Haitian nurse happened to be close by, but she couldn't do anything to help persons with their injuries as she had no supplies. She brought drinking water, but Walters said it wasn't clean.

"One sip," he said, "me coulda taste the cholera."

After spending the night out in the open, cold, frightened and hungry, Walters made arrangements to salvage what he could from the house he was staying in. He then made it to a 'safe house' at the Austrian Consulate in Canape Vert, Port-au-Prince. Eventually, he got in touch with Digicel in Jamaica and managed to get on a flight to Jamaica four days after his ordeal.

"Me can't forget," he said. "Bodies piled up like trucks dropped off a pile of dirt. One woman was swollen to the point where she burst open and you could see everything inside."