Rhode Island woman who survived earthquake in Haiti says crisis still 'not over'


Watching news reports of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on Saturday, Nicole Jean-Gilles was drawn back to that fateful day seven weeks ago when she was nearly killed during the quake that rocked Haiti.

Jean-Gilles is a nurse at Fatima Hospital, and a member of the diocese’s Black Catholic Ministry. She had returned to Haiti, her homeland, for a post-holiday visit with several family members who still reside there, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the island nation on Jan. 12.

She was riding with family members in a car through the capital, Port-Au-Prince, when the earth began to shake violently just before 5 p.m. local time.

“I survived, thank God,” says Jean-Gilles, 49. “We had stopped. A bus in front of us broke down. That saved us.”

She says she couldn’t believe what she was seeing as a house at the side of the road in front of them suddenly collapsed onto itself, spreading debris everywhere. She says she felt like she was part of a movie.

“If it weren’t for the bus, we would have been further down the road and the car would have been crushed,” she says.

As the dust began to settle, panic ensued in the streets, she recalls, with people scurrying around and crying, not knowing what to do as they ran for their lives.

It would be another five hours before Jean-Gilles, and those riding with her, would make it back to her mother Lucinne’s home, which was about 20 minutes away.

Jean-Gilles stayed on to assist the relief efforts with her medical skills until she finally boarded an American military flight back to the U.S.

While she is able to stay in contact with her family in Haiti now by telephone, Jean-Gilles says relief efforts there still have a long way to go.

It was her mother’s preparedness that allowed the family to survive following the quake, according to Jean-Gilles. Lucinne was fortunate to have cupboards full of food to help take care of the family and others. Many thousands of others were not as fortunate.

Days turned into weeks as people in the neighborhood waited in vain for relief convoys to come and distribute much-needed food and water.

“They weren’t going through the streets. Not everybody was getting the help,” Jean-Gilles says.

Despite the passage of seven weeks since the disaster, conditions have not been greatly improved for many thousands who are barely surviving there.

“They still need a lot of help now,” Jean-Gilles says, relaying information she is continually receiving from her family in Haiti.

“It’s not over.”

Aid has begun flowing from diocesan collections across the United States and around the world to Catholic Relief Services, which was already on the ground in Haiti doing humanitarian work even before the quake literally leveled the playing field for a range of social classes even before the quake struck.

Jean-Gilles, whose husband Frantz is a driver for RIPTA, says she would like to bring at least one of her nephews to Providence to help him escape the terrible situation they are forced to live in there as a result of the disaster.

“It’s so sad to see the country like that,” she says.

Printed with permission from The Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence.

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