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Haiti earthquake: the day the earth moved

21-01-2010 Feature

Chantal Pitaud (43) joined the Haitian Red Cross in 1991 and is now in charge of their restoring family links programme. Like everyone else in Port-au-Prince, Chantal has been greatly affected by the 12 January earthquake. For the last week, she has been helping reunite families separated by the tragedy. This is her story.


  ©CICR/M. Kokic    
Chantal Pitaud in an improvized camp set up by homeless families in Port-au-Prince.    

“I didn’t immediately realize it was an earthquake. My father and I ran outside and stayed there, in the street. By some miracle, our house survived. But like everyone else, my father and I spent the night outside.

The first thing I did was try and call my family here in Port-au-Prince. Nothing was working. I couldn’t find my m other. My brothers and sisters live in the United States. I tried to call them too, but I couldn’t get through. I was afraid my mother was dead. Next day, the Civil Protection came and asked me to help them find body bags for the corpses. They asked me because I knew what to do.

I went to the ICRC delegation next day around midday. They asked me to start work on restoring family links, the job I’m trained for.

 Finding courage despite the pain  

Straight after the earthquake, people started to search for family members who had been at school or at work when the earthquake happened. People were terrified. I was afraid too, but I just told myself I had something to contribute, something I could do to help. When it’s like that, you have to find courage despite the pain. For the first few days, I cried every time I woke up, because I realized that there was no more life, no more hope.

When I started to work on restoring family links – the most sacred links there are – I felt the job suited me. But now it’s different; I feel useful. I believe I’m doing something useful for people, for my fellow-citizens. The needs in Port-au-Prince are so great that I just have to do whatever it takes to get people back together with their families.

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/ht-e-00455    
A Haitian Red Cross volunteer helps people use the satellite phone to reassure relatives that they are alive.    

Two days ago, I got a call from someone in Afghanistan asking if I was alive, if I was OK. It was a Haitian-American soldier who had benefited from the “restoring family links” services of the Haitian Red Cross. That call showed me that as well as my family, my friends and my colleagues, there were people I’d helped who were thinking of me. In the days after the earthquake, that was important.”