|Haiti quake survivor Chand recalls hotel rescue|
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Jan. 19, 2010
The glimpse of light is glorious.
Sarla Chand spent hours in the dark, trying to poke her way out of
the lobby of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to find help
for herself and colleagues, all trapped when the hotel collapsed during
the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Finally, through an opening, she sees a tree and a beam of light from
a helicopter. Outside, the sound of voices brings hope.
Chand, 65, a United Methodist who works for IMA World Health, made it
safely home to Teaneck, N.J. But as she reflects on her dramatic
rescue, there also is a sense of distress—both for the people of Haiti
and for two of the five colleagues trapped with her who died from their
The Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee
on Relief, and the Rev. Clinton Rabb, in charge of the Mission
Volunteers program for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries,
did not survive their ordeal. Dixon’s death in Port-au-Prince was
announced Jan. 16 and Rabb died on Jan. 17 at a Florida hospital.
“I was absolutely shocked when I heard after coming here that Sam
didn’t make it in Port-au-Prince,” she says. The news about Rabb was
another blow. “My heart is broken. I’ve known them for so many years.
It’s a big loss.”
Chand and her other trapped colleagues—the Rev. Jim Gulley, an UMCOR
consultant, and Rick Santos and Ann Varghese, both with IMA World
Health—returned home on Jan. 15.
This was not Chand’s first visit to Haiti or the Hotel Montana. Her
agency has been implementing a successful USAID-funded program designed
to eliminate two tropical diseases. In Haiti, she explains, “we do an
annual mass drug administration to the community and the school system.”
Meeting at the hotel
The IMA staff had a meeting scheduled Jan. 12 at the Hotel Montana
with representatives from their partners in the program, the Haiti
Ministry and Health and the University of Notre Dame.
“We had met Sam and Jim at the Methodist office the evening before,”
she recalls. “One of the things we were discussing was how IMA can help
revitalize the clinics in Haiti.”
The group also needed to discuss an agricultural project in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, so they agreed to meet for dinner at the
hotel after the IMA meeting.
Dixon and Rabb arrived at the hotel around 4:50 p.m. “Clint was with
them, which I had not expected,” Chand says. “I was very pleased to see
Clint. We introduced ourselves and then we said, ‘Let’s go to the
Chand estimates she was about two or three steps behind the rest of
the group because she had paused to send an e-mail message. Then she
heard a noise and was hit on the head.
“My laptop bag flew off in one direction, my (hand) bag flew off. …
I’m just being propelled forward. I don’t even have time to think of the
Darkness and silence
What follows, for a moment, is darkness and dead silence. Chand
realizes she is sitting down. Then she hears her colleagues move.
“We are calling out to each other,” she remembers. “Those five are in
one area, confined. I am separated from them, but I can hear them.”
Someone in the group turns on a cell phone so Chand can see the light
through the cracks. She sticks her hand through a crack and they say
they can see it. “We know we are not that far apart, but we can’t see
They wait for help. Gulley, Santos and Varghese are able to move a
bit in the confined space. Chand hears them talking, trying to make
Dixon and Rabb—who are pinned under concrete—comfortable.
The next day, they hear the sound of a sledgehammer.
“We get all excited that help has come,” Chand says. When she hears
footsteps and a voice, she shouts out that six Americans are trapped and
need help. The voice responds, possibly in Creole, but she can’t
understand, so she repeats the message. “And the person says 'OK' and I
hear retreating footsteps and nothing happens.”
As the hours mount, the group is losing hope. “At some point … it
just dawns on me if I don’t move from here and try to find a way out, we
are stuck,” she says.
Looking for light
Sometime on Jan. 14, the second day after the earthquake, Chand
gropes on the ground and finds a long stick. She asks the others to turn
on a cell phone light so she can get her bearing.
Sarla Chand leads a 2009 seminar in Powell, Wyo. A UMNS
photo by Paul Jeffrey, Response. A UMNS
photo by Paul Jeffrey, Response.
Gulley tries to get out of the space where he and the others are
trapped and she moves to help him. But he gets stuck and she’s
“I have no clue now where I am,” she recalls. She begins searching
for a window, for daylight. “I slide, I crouch, I crawl, to keep moving.
I keep talking to them. They’re guiding me and I’m moving in different
Chand finds some windows again, but she detects a big gap with her
stick between her position and the windows. So she backs off, goes in a
different direction, and calls out that she has found the hotel atrium.
Some windows are blocked by concrete. Other openings are too small
for her to crawl through. Gulley tries again to crawl out of his space,
but is unable to do so. Finally, she gives up, because daylight is
fading. She pokes around the floor to find a space to sit for the night
and sees a bigger opening.
“I crawl there,” she recalls. “I tell them I see the top of a tree
and under a tree, lights.” Then the voices come. “I can hear the voices
very clearly. People are talking. We all together shout and we sit back
and nothing happens.”
Chand cries out again, but is afraid they are stuck for the night.
“Suddenly, I see light and I hear one voice. "I cry out, ‘Please help’
and I hear some response.” She could decipher the words. “Then I shout,
‘We are Americans trapped here, we need help.’”
‘Where are you?’
This time, there is a question, in English. “Where are you?”
Chand responds by thrusting her leg through the opening. “I can see
it, I know where you are now,” her rescuer responds.
He is a 26-year-old Frenchman who speaks just enough English. She
gives him the names of everyone in their group and tells him they are
aware that two other people are trapped in an elevator nearby.
The French rescuer returns with his team. “They tell me it will take
two hours minimum,” Chand says. “They started layer by layer, making
that opening larger.”
The process takes almost three hours. With the light, she realizes
she is back in the lobby where she had been standing when the earthquake
occurred. Their rescuers remove Chand first, then bring out Santos and
Gulley. French doctors have given morphine to Dixon and Rabb. Varghese,
who is providing translation, is the last of the four to leave.
At that moment, it looks like a happy ending.
Chand, Gulley, Santos and Varghese are checked out at the hotel site
by the French doctors and then taken to the U.S. Embassy, where they
rest for a few hours after another medical assessment.
Chand’s head wounds are not serious, but the blood has soaked her
clothes. They have seats on a flight to Florida and she wants something
clean to wear. A Haitian-American woman at the embassy takes a blouse
from her suitcase and gives it to her.
They have not seen Dixon or Rabb, but Chand assumes that they have
been stabilized and flown directly from the hotel site to a hospital.
Only later does she learn, one by one, that two of the colleagues
whose voices had comforted her and guided her in the darkness are no
But Chand is thankful to be back.
“I’m so grateful to be out of there and alive,” she says.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video Interview with Dr. Sarla Chand
was their connection to the outside world.”
at IMA will do all we can to honor Sam and Clint’s legacy.”
the very end, they were joyful."
video resources from UMNS and UMTV
Photos from team in Haiti
Worshippers remember Haiti in prayer, song, gifts
Survivor: UMCOR trio kept faith in Haiti ruins
United Methodist woman saves colleagues in Haiti
In fast 3 seconds, world caved in
Haiti quake survivor vows return following her ordeal
Hope in God supplants grief in Haitian congregation
in Haiti: The Church Responds
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