The school was situated about 50 feet from the beach. What we know is that all homes along the shore have been washed away and the school is virtually gone!
The school was made of concrete blocks, but not very well. It had a partial new metal roof with new window shutters. The children in the area all live in substandard homes, made of mud, branches, or if they are lucky bricks with tin roofs.
There was no safe shelter for them for miles....
My heart is broken as I think about the first day of school and I saw all those smiling faces overfill our classrooms! They were so excited, excited to know they would have new text books this year, so excited to know they would have notebooks and pens to start off their new school.
I made my way back to Dame Marie two days after the storm hit!
I arrived at the small airport in Port au Prince bright and early on Thursday ready to tackle whatever lay ahead. What I didn't know at time and was not prepared for was the aftermath of a very brutal war; a massive war zone!
I met my team from Hero search and rescue that had arrived from different parts of the world the evening before and a camera man from a Port au Prince News station. We were high, energized, ready and willing.
The flight with Mission Aviation Fellowship was a short, hour and ten minutes. As we grew closer to the start of where Hurricane Matthew (HW) had hit I became more and more anxious. The ocean had strange shapes of unusual shades of blue, almost at one point a dark mass looking like it was pushing in the opposite direction of the current. Then as we approach closer to Jeremie the coastlines looked like matchsticks that had just been thrown up in the air and landed at random with the occasion
bear stick still standing as if to defiantly say “ha, you can't get me Matthew?"
We flew close to Jeremie and I had seen it many times on previous flights but this no city I had seen before; it was not Jeremie anymore. It was a mass of ripped up bear coconut and mango trees, mounds of concrete thrown everywhere in all directions, blown out buildings, with roofs strewn across fields or neighbors’ homes.
Whole communities wiped out, no more, gone!
I heart sank so low but nothing could have prepared for Dame Marie.
Michael Broyles, the pilot knew that I was desperate to find out about my house that is a few feet from the beach. He knew that my husband was waiting back in Canada of news! So before we landed on the Dame Marie airstrip he took us over my house so that he could take back news to Craig, my husband. As we approached I felt hopeful, it was still standing! All the windows and doors were gone but it was still standing. But in all the excitement and trying to get photos for Craig it briefly crossed my mind that something wasn't right. This was not my neighborhood, something that would be very clear later.
Michael landed the plane smoothly on Dame Marie airstrip and we very met by many anxious and hopeful Haitians wanting help, wanting food and water which we had none of. I was personally greeted with lots of hugs and tears as many of them I had met me on previous trips and some in particular had helped me when I was evacuated out of Dame Marie a few days earlier. We held each other tight, not knowing each other's name, not speaking each other's language. It was of no consequence! You see trauma will do that, make you instant family with those that care.
The airstrip is high on a hill that had be climbed done and then a boat taken into Dame Marie. We didn't really know if any boats would be available as we were pretty sure the storm destroyed most. But we heard there was one that still had a motor in Dame Marie. The problem was with all communications down they had no idea we were arriving. It was decided that we would go down the cliff with the locals and see what we could find. So with our entourage in tow carrying the luggage and medical supplies we left. I broke my ankle in late June so I needed extra help climbing down the steep hill. Once down it was clear that we would not be able to go in one of the locals boats as the sea was still very rough. Plan B, climb bank up the hill and walk the arduous trek 2 hour to the next town to see if they had a boat. It became clear quickly that this was a journey that I was not capable of. The sun was blaring down and I had been very sick in June with very low potassium levels after such a journey. It was decided that I would find shade and wait for the second plane to arrive a few hours later. The first group should have made it to Dame Marie by then and send the boat for the next Hero crew and me. I was taken to what was left of someone's house, which I clearly remember because on one of our previous flights we waited there because were very early for a flight. The brick and cement home now looked like it had been bombed! No roof, walls crumbled done, toppling stairs, certainly not a place anyone can reside in. The mother was cooking outside with the one pot she had left, her Haitian kitchen was buried under several feet of mango and almond trees.
There was an American Haitian there who had been visiting his church, he was from Florida. His description of what occurred during the hurricane and how people survived during those terrifying hours made my blood stop. He says that once all but two of the of homes were destroyed the people just laid down on top of each in a massive group and held on to each other. "There was place no to hide, no place to go we just had each other and God." It was a miracle no one died on that hill! I did have two people medevacked out on the next plane, one lady had a leg injury that was already turning gangrene and a young man that had a head injury. I spent the next few hours sharing stories, giving them updates on what I knew, what had happened in other parts of the country and how they could help themselves now, to be ready when help is offered. This community's lives totally off the land, they had no need to go to the market for goods. It has all been destroyed! If they don't get help soon. they will all starve. They have no safe drinking water it has all been contaminated by the ocean as has most of the water affected by HM. The next plane that arrived had a few cases of water that were left for that community, it will not be enough for everyone to have one bottle!
Once unloaded I once again made my way down the hill, I had found a local guy that guaranteed me that he could get us all to Dame Marie In his boat. He was hired! I had no idea if the first team had made it or not so we couldn't wait for that boat.... Once at the shore I noticed that the sea was still very rough and we were to go in a small boat and be rowed to Dame Marie which usually takes about 45 minutes with a motor. We had no choice, this crew had much more gear and I knew I couldn't walk to Dame Marie up and down hills, through mud for over 5 hours. Once they secured the boat I was swiftly carried aboard by two men firemen style, the others followed and before I knew it we were on our way. Once away from shore I was pleasantly surprised that is was actually a pretty smooth journey considering... Maybe it was because on the whole journey one of team member was praying the entire time... The four Haitians rowing the boat were laughing and joking around, typical Haitian they had just lost everything and they are still happy. There were highlights on the trip, one was were when they would find something in the water they could use such as a pair a pants. I told them that's fine it’s not from my house!! They laughed.
As we neared Dame Marie things became eerily quiet on the boat. Once again this was not a city I recognized from the ocean. For one thing I could clearly see the Catholic Church which I have never seen on my boat ride into town. It now sticks out above everything else, it was obvious it was severely damaged, the tower was shorter and the roof was gone. All the dozens of houses and trees that once hid it were gone, obliterated in the hurricane. There is now a massive opening from the ocean into what was once a small RIVER OPENING. It lead to a small bridge the led you into Dame Marie, which is now gone. Next where there used to be hundreds of houses along miles of sea front, and the national highway leading into the city are gone as it about a mile of the highway. Road and houses all washed away.
As the boat took me to the bay where my house was I knew I had to prepare myself for the worst, but the worst is not something you can prepare yourself for when you can't even imagine the worst. As we got closer to my house I saw that it was in one piece, a moment of thanks. People were on my roof waving, I saw people start coming to shore to greet me, I was overwhelmed crying, laughing, and trying to get out of the boat as quickly as I could. My three dogs came running as soon as I called them. They all rushed into the water frantically trying to get in the boat, it was chaos, in my head and the scene. All the while the camera man trying to capture every moment. I was hugging everyone, the kids, my staff, neighbors, Cliff a local boy who has become a big part of our lives, his friends. But I couldn't find, the one person, I needed to see, where was Robinse? Nowhere in sight. I knew he'd be there to greet me, my heart was starting to sink. Then someone told me he had gone out with the motor boat to get me and the others. Wow! Huge, sigh of relief.
I climbed over mounds of rumble to get to my house, the front sea wall was gone and some of the veranda was intact, enough to make to where the kitchen door used to be. What met my eyes was a huge pile of concrete, rocks, sand, mud, kitchen equipment, broken cabinets and furniture, conch shells, and other unimaginable debris. Cabinet doors gone and fridge destroyed. The stove was missing, the cupboard under the sink was full of sand and conch shells. Piles of destroyed text books from my recent GoFundMe campaign! It was barely passable, and around the corner in the living room it was even worse, doors, windows, several inches of sand and dirt, more conch, items that had been washed down from the two floors above including the roof. I just stood there, speechless and totally numb trying very hard not to have a breakdown right there in front of everyone. Our dream, all our hardworking and money gone, EVERYTHING destroyed. Either destroyed by the force of the hurricane or the massive storm surge that engulfed our three storey dream home. Our "Forever Home."
My staff had done their best to clean the second floor to make it habitable, the bed was made and all debris removed. Only thing was the bed was soaking wet!! It was a nice thought. I was beginning to notice the smell, not just the smell when you come in after a swim but an awful rancid smell throughout the house. Everything was wet and it stank! Putrid! The only area that was saved from the ocean was our big storage room off our bedroom. For some reason the plywood didn't come off those windows and they remain intact. The only water that got in there was water that went under the door. I lifted most electrical things off the floor before I left so some were saved but still that horrific stink. I only had fifteen minutes to pack before I was evacuated two days before the storm hit.
My property looked like someone had taken all of Dame Marie in their hands, put it in a big bag, shaken it up and thrown it up in the air letting it land anywhere! Most trees and vegetation were destroyed, if any were standing not a leave was in sight!
I went to the school the next day, I was dreading it. It wasn't easy to get to. We went on our motto which had been strategically placed before the storm for safe keeping. The road was deep in sand, debris and many tress blocked our way. I had to get off the bike often and walk as it was impassable. I saw a few of the children on the way and they gave me a friendly "Bonjour Ms. Linda" as if everything was normal. Once there all I could do was cry! The first thing I saw a lonely desk sitting out among the rubble, then I noticed most of the walls were gone. It was barely recognizable. The school cleaning lady saw me and came over immediately and crumbled into my arms, her home was next to the school and it was gone!
I returned to Port au Prince two days later determined to help the people of Dame Marie any way I can. Please help me with Solidarity Dame Marian Inc. get as much help as we can to this, one of the worst hit communities in Haiti! We will be delivering 1000 sheets of tin to repair roofs next week.