Retired FSO David Lindwall Remembers the Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010 (Excerpt Via FSJ)

 

David Lindwall is a retired FSO who was serving as deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake and for the first 18 months of earthquake relief and reconstruction programs. His other posts included Colombia, Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sweden, as well as assignments in Washington, D.C. Excerpt below is from A Night to Remember, Foreign Service Journal, Jan/Feb 2020 where he shares his record of the first hours of the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010:

Three embassy houses on a ridgeline had collapsed and slid down the hill. Our human rights officer and her husband and the noncommissioned officer from the defense attaché’s office were trapped in the rubble. Their neighbor, Security Officer Pete Kolshorn, and a couple of Haitian guards worked tirelessly into the night to rescue them. With violent aftershocks rearranging the rubble every 15 minutes, the rescue operation put the rescuers’ own lives at risk. But they persisted and got their injured comrades up to the top of the ridgeline. All three had broken bones and open wounds. During the two hours it took to get them out of the rubble, we sent a scout to the three hospitals in town. All three were overwhelmed and would not even open their gates to us.

A Haitian doctor who lived nearby gave initial attention to our three wounded colleagues and helped Kolshorn move them several blocks through rubble to the main street. An embassy roving patrol vehicle that had been trapped up in the highlands managed to meet the party on the other side of the rubble. The Haitian doctor advised moving them to the clinic of a plastic surgeon he knew in Petionville. It wasn’t ideal, but it was our only choice. The doctor asked us to send oxygen tanks because one of the male patients had a collapsed lung.

In the expectation that one of our drivers would find a way through the rubble that separated the embassy from Petionville, I asked Dr. Steve Harris, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Port-au-Prince who had set up a provisional hospital in the embassy’s health unit, to get me all the oxygen, morphine and casting supplies he could spare. There were only two tanks of oxygen. That would not be enough to keep the male patient alive, the Haitian doctor told me; but it was all we had, and we dispatched the driver with the supplies.

Through the night more and more wounded came to the embassy looking for help. One of the ambassador’s bodyguards with open wounds and broken bones came carrying his infant son who had multiple fractures. His wife and other children had all been killed when their house collapsed.

By midnight we still had not located a large number of embassy personnel. With so many streets blocked by rubble, it was a real challenge to reach them. Assistant RSO Rob Little offered to take his motorcycle and go looking house by house. Rob knew Port-au-Prince better than any of us, and at 6 foot 6, he was intimidated by nothing. For the next two hours he drove around the neighborhoods where embassy people lived, assembling them in areas where they could be picked up by our vans as soon as the roads were cleared. Some of the embassy homes had been completely destroyed, but their occupants were miraculously spared. Several officers sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, but required evacuation as soon as we could get flights in the next days. For those huddled together in the dark front yards of ruined houses waiting for an embassy van, it must have been a very long night

Read in full here: http://afsa.org/night-remember

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