International Disability Day: Surviving the earthquake in Haiti

For International Disability Day I would like to share part of my story of being someone with Cerebral Palsy and being in Haiti when the devastating 2010 earthquake hit.

Owen Spears Montreal QC

The following piece takes place in 2010 when I was 17. I was part of a high school group from B.C. that was going to volunteer in Haiti. After four hours of travelling in Haiti we arrived at our destination. This is when the massive earthquake struck.

My main disability is Cerebral Palsy, it’s a neurological disability, affecting my reaction time, flexibility and balance. I have a light limp on my right side. I was born premature and because of this I also have a weak lung function and a hearing loss in both ears.

On International Disability Day I would like to share with The Post Millennial an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, Hour Four.

Hour Four: Surviving the earthquake in Haiti

Suddenly I could hear a rumbling sound. I imagined a large truck driving just outside the building. The noise was confusing. It was everywhere and growing. Our conversation came to a halt.

Instantaneously the rumbling sound built up with immense power. A chill ran through my body and a knot developed in my stomach–the noise grew louder. All of us were silent.

The floor slid back and forth with incredible force, throwing me to my hands and knees. The building shook violently, doors swung wildly, and chairs fell over. The ground dropped and rebounded, dropped and rebounded. Fear charged through my body. I may die. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I covered my head for protection from falling rubble, but nothing fell. Thoughts flashed, lasting only a fraction of a second. Everything around me was slow and fast all at once.

“Cover your heads!” Ryan shouted.

I have to think, I instructed myself. Briefly, I recalled the memories of living in Vancouver when I was younger. We hid under desks during earthquake drills. There were no desks. We needed something stable.

“Get under the fucking doorway!” Ryan yelled. He was right. I had been taught doorways were an option.

Run! Using my stronger leg, I pushed off the ground, attempting to make my way towards the door. I was thrown back down with a brutal, unforgiving force. My knees smashed into the floor.

Fuck. The pain disappeared quicker than I could register it. There’s no point in trying to stand. Planting my hands on the floor, fully aware of my exposed head if the roof fell, I half crawled, half scrambled as fast as I could in the direction of the doorway. My uncoordinated crawl wasn’t stable. I swayed with the ground below me.

As I neared, the building shifted again, jerking me with it. My mouth hit the wall. I reacted, covering my head with my hands, but I needed to keep my elbows on the ground for stability.

All of us tried squishing under the two doorways, but only a few fit. The rest of us remained in the vulnerable outskirts.

The shaking stopped. The noise stopped. My heart still raced.

As I stared at the floor, I moved my tongue around my mouth to check if there was blood. None. Straight away, I looked at the rest of my body, to make sure I was okay. I had a scratch on my right bicep that I didn’t remember getting.

We need protection, I thought. There were no desks nearby, but there were beds.

“Let’s move to under the beds!” I yelled as loud as I could.

“No!” Blake said, “They’ll break!” I stayed quiet not wanting to gamble with our lives.

Everyone was panting, hearts pounding, anticipating the aftershock. I assumed there was only so much time until another earthquake hit. The building could collapse.

Breaking the silence, Ryan yelled. “Get the fuck out!”

Elijah bolted, leading the way downstairs. I watched him from the top. When he reached the bottom, he didn’t move. He just stood there, paralyzed as he stared at the door ahead of him. A light sound of metal clanking pierced the silence. It was the door latch still shaking from the earthquake.

“Move out of the way,” Ryan said as he pushed Elijah to the side. He tried to open the red metal door, shoving it with the weight of his body.

“It’s jammed!” He shouted back as he began to fiddle with the latch. Blake made his way down the stairs, in an attempt to help. The rest of us waited, tense, frozen like Elijah. Ryan’s hands were moving quickly, but to no avail. The suspense grew with each moment that passed. Finally, he managed to get the door open. I watched as the rest of my classmates bolted down, skipping steps along the way.

Panting, I stood at the top of the staircase, alone. I looked at the challenge that lay before me. The stairs with no railing. Shit. I had never been able to walk down stairs without the risk of losing my balance. If the earth shakes as I’m going down, I’m screwed. But there’s no other way off the second floor. I have to do it. I hesitated, scared of what could happen, of what had happened. I leaned into the wall for support, taking the first step.

This was an excerpt from Owen Spears book, a memoir about my experience having a disability while being in Haiti when the earthquake struck. The memoir is titled Hour Four, which will be available through Amazon in January of 2020, just in time for the ten year anniversary of the earthquake. Five dollars from each book sold will be going to Haiti Arise, a charity based in Haiti.


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