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Despite these horrific events, it has been amazing to see the spirit
of the Haitian people in light of this disaster.
By Jen Richer
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Talk about a close call.
We had been planning it for months.
It’s been three years since we lived together and my college roommates and I were in desperate need of an adventure disguised as a vacation.
So when my former roommate Megan suggested we spend the turn of a new year on the sandy beaches of the Dominican Republic, our ears perked.
While the rest of us spent the next few months hunting down the cheapest airfare, Megan sent articles, pictures, and directions to our destination in Las Terrenas, about 100 miles northeast of Santo Domingo.
We had everything you could ask for: miles of sandy beaches, surfing, hiking, cliff jumping, horseback riding, waterfalls and a villa that opened up onto our own piece of the rainforest.
And did I mention we spent New Years in sun dresses despite our weak tans?
But the second I took my eyes off the blissful retreat, it was readily apparent that the rest of the country did not have it so good. Once we left the airport in Santo Domingo, we had a long drive ahead of us, and it didn’t take long to notice the dramatic change in landscape.
As we slowed down for the potholes, we started to notice the many of the locals walking around without shoes while they carried baskets of food and buckets of water along the highway, which was also Main Street for a lot of these villages.
The door-less homes were made of cement slabs and practically stacked on top of each other. Every few blocks, you’d find knee deep piles of garbage stacked up against the walls. Clearly, resources were tight.
I left that Monday.
Just one week later, Hispaniola -- the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- was hit by a devastating earthquake.
I'm from San Diego, I know about earthquakes; we expect them, and we have the resources to build accordingly. Our Caribbean neighbors have other concerns from Mother Nature -- like hurricanes -- to contend with.
Many homes are made of cement to protect them from strong winds, rather than wood and drywall like Californians. (It’s a lot easier to dig yourself out of Sheetrock than concrete.)
Just to simulate for those of you who have yet to experience an earthquake of that magnitude, think back to a time when your airplane hit turbulence: every fixture inside the plane groans under the stress, and you struggle to white-knuckle the nearest thing bolted down. Now, imagine 40 seconds of that shaking before the floor drops out from beneath you.
That’s just the primary shock, and you still have the aftershocks to deal with.
They didn't see it coming.
From an emergency response and financial standpoint, the Dominican Republic was significantly better off than those hit hardest by the quake in Haiti.
One mother from suburban Maryland called the newsroom at WMAL-AM this week. Her son was able to narrowly escape from his building, she said, and sent this email stateside that same day:
“I climbed out of my 4th story apartment as it was collapsing and was happy my four other colleagues … got out alright too. One guy … had some leg injuries but we carried him when we got out. Some Haitians and I were fortunate to pull out a woman and her daughter just as a slight tremor hit a second time, but I am so glad they got out safely. All of us in our apt complex lost everything and got out with the clothes on our backs (a couple of us not even with that!),” Rich described.
Despite these horrific events, “it has been amazing to see the spirit of the Haitian people in light of this disaster,” Rich says.
But it’s not just the spirit of the Haitian’s that is so impressive to me. I cannot believe how quickly and in such great numbers the Washington community mobilized to help.
Over the weekend, a group of parents from Oakridge Elementary sponsored an impromptu supply drive. John Tieso, a Crystal City resident, was among those making donations.
"The neighborhood got together and decided we need to do something.
The [parents] from Oakridge Elementary organized it, and we used to Crystal City Sports Pub as a drop off point. We had a great outpouring of donations and managed to send a truck full of stuff down [to the Haitian Embassy,]" he said.
The Haitian Embassy, in fact, has received so many donations for their survival kit drive, they now need help sorting through it all. For more information on how to help, check out http://www.haiti.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=140
Visit Jen Richer's Blog spot at: http://www.jenniferricher.blogspot.com/