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Pomona Student Who Experienced Haiti Quake Now Devoting Time to Fundraising and Awareness

Addie Salomon '12 in Haiti

On January 12, Addie Salomon ’12 was sitting in the living room of her uncle’s orphanage in Carrefour when the ground began to shake.

Salomon, her mother, and her younger sister had come to Haiti a few weeks before to visit her uncle and help at the orphanage he founded there in 2004. They, like the rest of Haiti, were unprepared for the largest earthquake in the country’s 200-year history.

The quake Salomon felt would kill an estimated 150,000 Haitians in Port-au-Prince alone. Thirty miles from the epicenter, however, there was an eerie calm.

"Even though there were things crashing all over the place, it was completely silent," she said. "The first thing I remember hearing was my uncle yelling through the house to see if everyone was okay. We all woke out of our shock."

As Salomon, her mother, and her younger sister emerged from the building, they saw the toll the earthquake had taken on their city. The United Nations estimates that 50 percent of the structures in Carrefour—a Port-au-Prince suburb with an estimated population of 350,000—had been flattened by the quake. 

Salomon’s house was the only one left undamaged for miles; they still had access to running water, and everyone in the family was safe. 

“We were really fortunate,” she said.

In the hours that followed, Salomon could hear the screams of people in the town as, by her count, more than 20 aftershocks hit in the first four hours after the initial quake. 

“You would hear prayers, people yelling, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’” she said. “They couldn’t believe it was still happening.”

As the quake began to shake Carrefour and Port-au-Prince, she said, a number of Haitians did not even realize what was happening. Though the country lies on a fault line, there has not been a major earthquake there since the 1940s. 

At first, she said, a number of Haitians thought the rumbling was coming from military tanks.

“Everyone thought it was the military attacking them,” she said. “They thought the Haitian military was turning against them.”

Isolated in Carrefour, Salomon and her family were unaware of the magnitude of the destruction in the nation’s capital.

“We did not know what was going on—we didn’t think anyone knew,” she said. “We had seen what happened in Carrefour, but it wasn’t anything like the destruction downtown.”

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, Salomon’s uncle rushed into Port-au-Prince to look for his girlfriend and children. Without access to a car, Salomon’s uncle walked from their home in Carrefour to downtown Haiti. He heard from a neighbor that the apartment building that his girlfriend and her daughter were living in had been completely obliterated during the quake, and that they were the only two survivors pulled from the rubble. Within two days, they had both been transported back to the orphanage in Carrefour with minimal injuries.

Salomon’s cousin, who was also living in Port-au-Prince, sent word that he had been unharmed in the quake, though his house had been destroyed. He was staying with his mother, helping her care for more than 50 children from three different orphanages she ran in a town just north of Port-au-Prince.

Though relieved that no one in her family had been killed by the quake, Salomon had a difficult time connecting to family outside of Haiti. When phone service returned after two days, Salomon received calls from her boyfriend and godmother in the United States, telling her to go to the Port-au-Prince airport—the center of the massive international evacuation and relief effort in Haiti. Salomon and her family spent the next couple days searching for a car and were eventually able to catch a ride into the capital with a friend of her cousin who was shuttling people back and forth.

Although Salomon had listened to her uncle’s description of the destruction in the city center, she was unprepared for what she saw from the car window on her way to the Port-au-Prince airport.

“Places we had been two days before were now destroyed,” she said. “The smell is what I remember most, the smell of rot. Everything was rotting—vegetables in markets, bodies.”

When Salomon and her family finally arrived at the airport’s single terminal, they were met by hundreds of Haitians and non-Haitians flashing their passports in hopes of being airlifted. Salomon pushed her way through the crowd and was able to speak with a representative from the American Consulate. At 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, just a day after the U.S. military began evacuating American citizens, Salomon and her family were on a flight back to the United States and their home in Northern California. 

“We were really lucky to get out,” she said.

Although humanitarian aid was only just reaching Haiti when she left, Salomon said she was surprised by the amount of support pouring into the country from across the globe. While at the airport, she recalled seeing hundreds of Colombian soldiers landing in Port-au-Prince to help with relief efforts.

“It was amazing that even Colombia—which is not the most powerful country—came to help,” she said. “I was so touched.”

By the time Salomon was evacuated from Haiti, she had been in the country for nearly three weeks. The family stayed on the property that Salomon’s grandfather, a former U.S. diplomat who spent much of his life in Haiti, had built in Carrefour. In 2004, Salomon’s uncle converted one of the houses on the property into an orphanage after seeing the living conditions of children on the streets in Carrefour.  Salomon’s mother organized the family trip to Haiti because she wanted to visit the facility to see if there was any way that she could help her brother.

“My mother...wanted to scope out what she could do from the U.S. in terms of funds,” Salomon said.

Following the quake, Salomon’s uncle turned his orphanage into a major hub for relief efforts in the city. 

He opened his doors to at least 20 children who had lost guardians in the quake, fed community members, and gave two houses on the property over to U.S. Marine relief operations. One house has since become a makeshift operating room. Located across the street from the region’s only hospital, the orphanage’s lawn has also become a triage center.

Although Salomon and her family are now safely back in the United States—Salomon returned to campus for the spring semester—they have become major advocates for the Haitian relief effort. Salomon’s family is currently raising funds to send back to her uncle as he struggles to keep the orphanage’s doors open and attempts to rebuild a school for children with disabilities that was completely destroyed in the quake. Aid has already started to dry up in the region, according to Salomon’s uncle. Salomon said her uncle has been struggling to collect enough food and water for the hundreds of children and community members under his care.

In Claremont, Salomon has been active in planning events both to raise money for her uncle’s orphanage and to make sure students do not forget about the long-term recovery effort. “[Haiti] just needs so much now,” she said. “It’s going to take years to rebuild the country.”

To donate or help out with ongoing fundraisers, one if which is planned for April, contact Adeline Salomon.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 25, 2010, by The Student Life.