4 New Jerseyans stranded outside Port-au-Prince
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Last updated: Thursday January 14, 2010, 8:32 PM
BY EVONNE COUTROS
Four New Jersey men on a Haitian humanitarian mission to build housing for orphans are stranded in Les Cayes, about 85 miles southwest of Port-Au-Prince, but plan to do what they can to help people in the earthquake-stricken nation.
“We have the skill set, we have the time, and we have ability to help these people,” said an upbeat Jeff Wells via Skype from a mission home and hotel in Les Cayes. “We’re here, so we’ll see if we can help. We have enough water and food for now.”
Wells, of Oradell, is an architect who traveled to Haiti more than a week ago with Rev. Andrew Topp, of Midland Park, Chris Duncan of Surf City and Rev. Ray Laird of Beach Haven, to help build a new home for girls through the International Humanitarian Aid Foundation, Inc.
The group had just returned from a day’s work to the two buildings where they are housed – a mission house and hotel about 200 yards farther away – when the quake struck.
“I felt the ground under me lifting… then a second tremor followed within 30 seconds that was just as bad,” Wells said Thursday. “Les Cayes is very populated. There was commotion… screaming. It was strong. There were over a dozen aftershocks… and hours of tremors.”
But unlike Port-Au-Prince, Les Cayes was on the outskirts of the epicenter. The men, however, say a mountain pass – the one accessible road to Port-Au-Prince – is closed. They find themselves wanting to help and eager to donate blood, but are proceeding with caution because of the lack of medical facilities and physicians in the area.
“It’s a pretty difficult situation,” Wells said. “Food, so far, is not a problem.”
Damage “was minimal” in Les Cayes, Topp said in an early e-mail he managed to send to friends on Wednesday. “People are all sleeping in the streets,” he wrote.
Wells and Topp – active with Gift of Life and Rotary International District 7490 – are seasoned travelers to Haiti and accustomed to the terrain having journeyed there about a dozen times as volunteers.
Tom Kelly, of Oradell, was the fifth volunteer in the group. Kelly returned the day before the quake and along with Well’s wife Bonnie is maintaining contact with the group through Skype, an Internet video conferencing service. The duo are trying to get the men out through U.S. Congressional offices in-state since the road pass to Port-Au-Prince is now blocked to travelers and the airports closed to commercial traffic and small planes.
Jeff Wells, an Oradell architect and three others are in Haiti as members of International Humanitarian Aide Foundation.
“We’re networking as much as we can with other groups,” Wells said via Skype of contacts with other Americans on the island and a local contact within the U.N. But those contacts too, are without resources for the moment, leaving the men stranded until they can find a way out by air or sea. Transferring money to the men is difficult since many of the buildings have collapsed and accessibility to cash is difficult, if not impossible.
Kelly, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley in Ridgewood, said he was fortunate to get out of Haiti before the quake, but is actually sorry he’s not there with his friends. The group was in the early stages of building the girl’s orphanage before the quake and the structure has not been damaged.
“I just happened to have a plane to get out earlier,” Kelly said. “There is a little airstrip in Les Cayes and I got on a plane from there at 7 a.m. into Port-Au-Prince. I got out before the earthquake because I decided to come home Monday instead of Tuesday.”
Kelly praised the demeanor of the friends he’s left behind. The area was unsafe and unstable prior to the quake, so he urged his friends to be wary.
Tom Kelly, who returned to New Jersey a day before the Haitian earthquake, and Bonnie Wells, talk via Skype, to Bonnie’s husband Jeff.
“It’s very impressive how they’re handling this and they’re really great guys,” Kelly said. “They are very spiritual, strong, committed men who do good things. We need to focus on getting them out of there.”
Bonnie Wells said she is not worried, but like the wives of Duncan and Laird, certainly wants her husband home and to stay out of harms way.
The Wells, married 22 years and the parents of children ages 21, 19, and 15, are planning a family reunion in Oradell when Jeff returns.
“I totally have a peace about him being there,” she said. “If he can be used there because he does have the expertise – he does have the architectural engineering background – that’s exactly where he is meant to be right now. It is what he is gifted to do.”
I’m one of the lucky ones.
I was able to hear good news about the people I know who were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and are still there.
What I can’t get out of my head though, is the fact that THIS would have been the trip I went on to Haiti. Up until right around Christmas, I was on board with this group. But the situation changed due to things beyond my control, and I ended up here, at home, when the earthquake hit. Part of me knows that God kept me here for a reason, a big part of which I think were the emotions and anxieties of many family and friends, had I been down there. Part of me still doesn’t understand why God kept me here. If I had gone, yes, my family and friends would have literally been worried sick about me, but that’s the reality of many, many families here in the States and in other countries who have family and friends in Haiti and are awaiting any word–good or bad.
I’m one of the lucky ones, and I just don’t understand why.
Please donate to help the relief effort in Haiti.