Learning From Haiti
1) Can you describe your experience in Haiti when the earthquake struck?
Well, I was deployed to Haiti 1 and a half months before the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010. I was deployed in the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as a Chief Military Personnel Officer of Force Headquarters and National Contingent Commander of Nepalese UN Peacekeeping troops in Haiti. But my role in Haiti changed drastically when the earthquake struck at 16:53 local time. When the earthquake did strike, I was in my vehicle on my way to an anniversary event for a battalion serving in Port-au-Prince. Many of the Nepalese serving in Haiti were quite lucky because they attended this event which was held in a flat open area.
I felt my vehicle jump and thought a tire went out but then I saw the flagpole shaking violently from side to side and I knew then it was an earthquake. It lasted for 35 seconds but it felt like an eternity. The shaking was so violent it was impossible to move or run during those 35 seconds. Immediately following the earthquake, I looked over Port-au-Prince and I could only see dust rising and I knew then we had suffered something devastating.
The earthquake came to us as a surprise because we did not perceive that there was an earthquake risk in Haiti. We had contingency plans for other disasters like hurricanes, floods and landslides but not for earthquakes. The initial days after the earthquake were an absolute nightmare. The sights were unbelievable. Everywhere I looked, there was debris and dead bodies; it was truly a nightmare. It was also a very chaotic period because we did not have a plan in place to respond.
But that night, we regrouped, established a temporary headquarters and started our own rescue operations.