By Judy Reed
When Haiti missionary and former Cedar Springs resident Rob Baker first heard the rumble last Tuesday, January 12, he thought it was a large truck. “I was sitting in my office talking about upcoming events and plans for the summer,” explained Baker, who with his wife, Patti, serves at the Baptist Haiti Mission. “We heard some rumblings and thought it was a large truck coming near the building. Then the floor began to shake.”
Baker said they then realized it was an earthquake but thought it would pass quickly. “It continued to rumble and then, not only the floor but the walls began to sway,” he said. “We jumped up and ran out of the building and continued to feel the ground shake and heard the noise of the rumblings. We did not have any warning that this was going to occur.”
The earthquake was a 7.0 on the Richter scale, and was followed by 40 to 50 aftershocks, including one that measured 6.0 yesterday morning (Wednesday). “People are afraid to sleep in their houses—if they have a house left,” noted Baker.
The epicenter of the earthquake was about 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The mission is located about 25 miles up in the mountains from Port-au-Prince. Baker said that when they examined their campus, they found that their conference center, one of the primary buildings which is used for a dorm, cafeteria and meeting room, was severely damaged. “A large walled foundation, an outer wall, roof, and part of the floor tumbled on to the terrace below,” he explained. The building was used for training sessions for pastors and school coordinators, and was scheduled to be used for a national church conference this past Monday. Their hospital and clinic buildings remained intact, however.
Soon after the earthquake, people started arriving at the hospital. “(We saw) injured from abrasions to broken limbs to very serious external and internal injuries,” noted Baker. He said that the medical staff, along with other volunteers, has worked long hours. The hospital is full to overflowing with people lining the halls. They also opened another building to house patients on mats on the floor. Then early this week, they received some welcome help from a team of medical doctors through Samaritan’s Purse. They have performed over 57 major surgeries.
Baker got word home last week to the folks at Grace Evangelical Free Church, where he was a former minister, that he and Patti, and their missionary children, Kyrk and Deborah Baker and Kelli and Chris Lieb, were all fine. Rob and Patti have served in Haiti since 2003, Kyrk has been there since 1998, and Kelli has been there since 2004. Kyrk and Kelli are also graduates of Cedar Springs High School.
But there have been many losses. As many as 200,000 people may have been killed in the disaster. Many buildings, including the National Palace have collapsed.
“Many have lost children or family members under the collapsed houses or buildings,” noted Baker. “Port-au-Prince is no longer as it was.”
What made this earthquake so devastating to the area was that it occurred only 6-8 miles down, instead of 20-30. And since there had been no severe earthquake for over 100 years, buildings weren’t constructed to withstand them, according to Pedro de Alba, professor of civil engineering at the University of New Hampshire. “Although the city is practically on the fault that ruptured, the area had not experienced a severe earthquake for more than 100 years, so people had very little ‘earthquake consciousness,’ which would translate into requiring earthquake-resistant design,” noted de Alba. “This is demonstrated by the number of building collapses, including the presidential palace, which lost its whole second floor in a classic example of the ‘soft story’ effect, where internal bracing is sacrificed to leave large open spaces.”
Baker said that gasoline, diesel and water are becoming a major concern at the Baptist Haiti Mission. “These supplies are desperately needed for the continuing medical treatment of the people of the area,” he explained.
Baker said the first thing people in Cedar Springs can do to help is to pray for the staff, medical teams and the suffering people of Port-au-Prince. Then they can make a contribution the Baptist Haiti Mission website at www.bhm.org.
Readers can also donate to the United Methodist Corps on Relief (UMCOR) or help out Cedar Springs United Methodist with the care packages they are sending.
Free Methodist World Missions at www.fmwm.org/ or the American Red Cross are also taking donations, and Family Fare and D&W has partnered with the Salvation Army to take donations in red kettles at their stores until January 24.
For updates on the Bakers and other missionaries from Rockford’s Baptist Haiti Mission, tin Haiti, visit their website at www.bhm.org.