Maryland pastor's family stranded in Haiti after deadly earthquake

When a 7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12, it would leave Haitian immigrant and Silver Spring resident William Saint-Hilaire wondering how he'd be able to continue on without his family.
By Theola Labbé-DeBose and Wil Haygood
Thursday, January 21, 2010

At 5:30 on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 12, William Saint-Hilaire rose from his tiny Silver Spring basement apartment to get ready for work. By 2 o'clock, he had finished at his job installing sprinkler systems for a company in Bethesda and returned home for a bite. A short while later, he left for a 4:45 appointment at Montgomery County Community College to meet with an academic counselor about an English course he hoped to take.

"I was sitting there," he recalls, "talking to the counselor, and my cellphone started going off." He had the phone on vibrate. He did not want to be rude by answering it, so he let it go.

In the hallway after the meeting, Saint-Hilaire finally pulled the cellphone from his pocket. "It was a member from my church. She said, 'There's been an earthquake in Haiti! In Port-au-Prince!' " Saint-Hilaire ran to his car and raced toward his church in Adelphi. He pulled up in the parking lot of Eglise Baptiste du Calvaire where he is an assistant pastor, and rushed inside. On the television in a church office he saw images of destruction, of the dead and barely alive. The people around him seemed to suddenly recede from his line of vision. Within moments, an eerie calm settled inside him.

His wife and six children lived in a small house in Petionville in Port-au-Prince, where the 7.0 earthquake had struck. And so Saint-Hilaire knew what he knew: "My family is dead," he uttered to himself. "They are no more."

Lissa, his wife, and their children, Billy, 16, Bella, 15, Bello, 14, Benedict, 13, and the lovely and rambunctious 8-year-old twins, Belline and Bellinda. Gone. As if clipped from all the picture frames inside his basement apartment. "They could not survive that."

And with this belief overtaking him, Saint-Hilaire shuddered and his eyes went blank as he seemed to rise up and away from his own limp body. Weightless. "I could no longer tell if I was on the ground -- or in the air."

* * *

Dinnertime was nearing and Lissa Saint-Hilaire was in the family's house preparing a meal for the children and a couple of neighbors. She had just finished cooking. Bella was upstairs with her and the others were in the basement, playing their musical instruments.

Then, she recalls: "I felt the earth move."

A rumble, and booming sounds. It was as if a giant bulldozer had come to life beneath the ground.

Her screaming seemed to be in the air before it left her throat. She heard her children's footsteps.

"Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"

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