Witness - A timely snowcone before Haiti was turned upside down
Joseph Guyler Delva, known to his colleagues as "Guy", is one of Haiti's most prominent journalists and heads the local SOS Journalist organisation that works to promote press freedom in the Caribbean nation. Guy, 43, been working for Reuters since 2004, covering everything from political turmoil to natural disasters. He has faced intimidation and death threats in the course of his reporting. His first dispatch on Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake was one of the first detailed eyewitness accounts to the outside world reporting on the panic and scale of destruction in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
In the following story, Guy describes how his own home and office collapsed in the quake but his wife, Shirley, and children, Jennifer, 7 and Stephan, 1, survived.
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Call it fate, or the luck of the draw, but I'm convinced the thing Americans know as a snowcone or slurpy saved my life when the walls came tumbling down and my home city fell all the way into hell last week.
I had picked up my 7-year-old Jennifer from school and although I was running late because of heavy traffic I gave in when she asked me to stop to buy her one of those syrupy shaved ice treats known in Haiti as a "fresco" before heading back to my office in the Canape Vert district of Port-au-Prince.
Our stopover took longer than expected and the earthquake struck as I was still driving in the street, just a stone's throw away from the entrance to my office.
As dust clouds and panicked cries for help rose all around me, my wife Shirley somehow managed to get a call through to my cellphone. She had been working in my office, on the top floor of the three-story building, and said it was collapsing all around her.
I jumped out of the car and saw, for the first time, that the building had pancaked, its heavy concrete roof jutting out at awkward angles atop the rubble.
I appealed to stunned passers-by to lend me a hand as I called out Shirley's name repeatedly and started peering through the remains of the building to look for her. In what I can only describe as a miracle, I got another call from her about an hour later saying she had survived the fall with no injury and was now on the street outside our destroyed home, with Jennifer, our one-year-old son Stephan and a housekeeper.
I took off running for home, dodging piles of rubble and collapsed cars along the mile-long (1.5-km) route, and tearfully embraced Shirley and the children when I got the last call I received that day, just before mobile phone service and Haiti's communications with the outside world collapsed.
The call was from Pascal Fletcher, the Miami-based Reuters bureau chief for the Caribbean and U.S. Southeast. I fed him him all the colour and information I could, promising to call back just a short while later. But further communication was impossible until the following day, when I found a working Internet line to email the Miami bureau.
As a journalist, I have been torn between covering the dramatic story here and looking out for my family. With our home in ruins, we had to camp out on the streets and on the floor of a friend's restaurant in the immediate aftermath of the quake. But I also need to report what is happening in my suffering and deeply impoverished homeland. It is a difficult balancing act, and I answered Shirley's repeated protests by explaining that doing my job was also a way of supporting my family.
On Sunday morning, I managed to get Shirley and the kids lined up to board a Canadian emergency relief plane flying back to Canada. They are now safe there and I have been able to devote my undivided attention to our news coverage.
Across Port-au-Prince, tens of thousands of bodies have been pulled from the rubble and many more have not yet been recovered. More than a week later, rescue teams are still finding survivors but there is no way of knowing how many more are trapped, waiting for help.
Haiti was a bad place even before the earthquake. But everything is broken now in the capital of a once-proud country, where slaves threw off French rule to establish the world's first black republic more than two centuries ago.
The country, and those that have come to help, now face a huge challenge in fixing it.
Give the misery across the city, I consider myself lucky and I'll always remember the instant when, not wanting to disappoint her, I pulled off the road to get Jennifer that "fresco," a moment when we chilled out at a roadside store shortly before Haiti was turned upside down.
If not for that stopover, I may well have been crushed on the ground floor of my office building. Like so many other structures across Port-au-Prince, it is now just a makeshift cemetery or mausoleum.
The building housed SOS Journalistes, a press freedom watchdog group that I founded in 2005. The group has succeeded in freeing several Haitian journalists subjected to arbitrary arrest and works with hundreds of reporters and other media professionals to provide training and legal assistance in cases of journalists killed or targeted for violent reprisals because of their work in Haiti.
In the chaos of the last few days, I have no way of knowing how many people were in the building when it crumbled and how many have lost their lives. It could be years before the rubble there is finally removed. I can only hope that Shirley was alone when she called to say it was falling to the ground.
(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Kieran Murray)
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