Tuesday night in Cambry, SW Haiti. My team co-leader and daughter, Angela Quinn shows me an email from my son-in-law back home asking what our plan is for the hurricane that is going to hit Haiti on Friday or Saturday. Hurricane? What hurricane, we ask. Hurricane Isaac, don’t you know? Well we don’t exactly get CNN here you know…but given that Angela (his wife) and I have their two oldest children (my grandchildren) and 11 other souls in our care we are on it for sure now. 24 hours later on Wednesday night, we are still tracking the monster on the web and it’s still showing a direct hit on our position.
Wednesday night, Plan A is put in place…our host suggests we leave Cambry early on Friday morning and make the 5 to 10 hour bus drive to Port au Prince before the storm hits, stay in a hotel that I am familiar with and ride the storm out there on Friday night so that we will be in position to catch our United flight out on Saturday afternoon after the airport has been opened up again. We hold our nightly team meeting on the roof of the guest house, since the kids are all watching a movie outdoors below, and inform the team of the plan. This team is incredibly talented and an absolute pleasure to work with in every way. Throughout the unfolding drama, they are fully supportive of Angela and me and willing to do whatever is asked of them at every turn. The bus is scheduled, the hotel reservations are made and I put over an uncomfortable night with disturbing dreams throughout.
The next morning, Thursday, Plan A isn’t looking so good. What if we get into Port au Prince and the storm is worse than expected, our hotel floods, chaos ensues, our flight is cancelled and we can’t get out of the capital where 400,000 people are living in tents. Let’s go to Plan B. We are situated in the best possible place to ride out the storm. Concrete building, high ground, access to plenty of food and good drinking water, pastoral setting away from the ocean. Let’s load up on provisions and hunker down here for the duration. We tell the team and they support the decision.
Only one problem, if the roads wash out and there is general chaos of some sort, we could be stranded here in the SW corner of Haiti for days or weeks. Oh well, we have checked all the airlines and there are no early flights available, in fact nothing was available for the next five days even before the hurricane was known about. Too bad, those are the breaks. Let’s get on with the preparations and keep working and treating patients in the meantime. We will just get out when we get out.
11:00 AM Thursday morning and I need to dial into a conference call that is going on back home with new Canadian investors in my business. We are in the middle of a major expansion financing that is supposed to close in the next 10 days and the company CEO, namely me, needs to be there to be sure it closes. The quick consensus is that the company needs to get my team and me out of Haiti and back to Charlotte as soon as reasonably possible, period. Enter my new partner and company COO, Richard Porter, who is on the call and says he will make it happen. In fact, he has already been researching charter flights with our Executive Assistant, Allison Norris and is ready to spring into action.
With the commitment to our extraction in place, the team is notified to begin acting as if we are going to leave within two hours and try to wrap up their construction projects and be ready to close the clinic in one hour. Pending resolution of moving the bus up from Friday morning to early this afternoon, the new Plan C is to make the 5 hour bus ride to Port au Prince this afternoon, have a chartered plane fly from Florida to Port au Prince during that time and be out of PaP tonight before the storm begins to affect air traffic. Good plan with only one problem….what happens if the bus gets tied up in PaP traffic and it takes more like 10 hours to get to the PaP airport? The chartered plane will have to go back without us and we will already have paid for the flight. If Richard can find a plane, we will just have to take that chance.
12:00 and the bus company has committed to have the bus there at 1:00, the chartered plane from FL is available and Richard has spoken to the CEO of the charter company and one of their customers to be sure they are legit. The decision is made…it’s a go. Plan B (hunker down and ride it out at Cambry) is off the table and the new Plan C is underway. The team is frantically packing their bags, saying their goodbyes and wrapping up their projects. The orphans are all milling around the guest house sensing that something big is up and some are beginning to cry as they learn of our immediate exit. The wind is picking up rapidly and the whole scene is absolutely surreal.
1:00 and the bus is there and being loaded when my phone rings and Richard calls to say that the charter company has suggested that we fly from Les Cayes to PaP instead of taking the bus to insure that we get there before our appointment with the chartered plane from FL. He has spoken with the President of Tortug Air in PaP and convinced him to fly a plane up to Les Cayes from PaP to pick us up and take us back to PaP and eliminate the bus ride all together. Plan D is now in effect. I have one of the translator’s explain to the bus driver that we have one more change of plans and that instead of the long ride to PaP we only want to go the 10 minutes to the Les Cayes airport. Philemon, the translator and the bus driver both lose their minds at the crazy American who can’t decide what he wants to do. A shouting match ensues in which I tell them both to just finish loading the bus, take us to the Les Cayes airport and keep that bus standing by until the wheels are up on our plane as we leave for PaP.
Time for one last gut check…I step back into the dining room of the guest house. The wind is whipping across the hill where the guest house sits. Are we moving this team into harm’s way or are we taking them out of harm’s way? I pray that God will make it clear whether we need to move ahead with Plan D, which includes flights from Les Cayes to PaP, from PaP to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Lauderdale to Charlotte as the wind is escalating or whether we should just call the whole thing off and go back to the hunker down and ride it out Plan B. One of our team members, Rob Bolo, is sitting with me and reassures me that the aviation experts are correct that the wind is not yet at a critical point and that the conditions are still fine for flying. That’s it then….to the bus…but first, we stop for group prayer with the kids and the staff. One of the older boys, Lahens, prays a moving prayer for our safety and God’s favor on us. Final goodbyes and lots of tears, a team count on the bus and we’re off to the airport.
Thanks to great work by Richard and Allison, Plan D goes off without a hitch. The plane arrives at Les Cayes while we are going through the security checks. A quick turn around and a 45 minute flight later we are at the Tortug terminal at PaP. Dou Dou, our Haitian escort for the trip, has lined up a bus for us and has a friend meet us there and marshall us through the luggage process and on to the bus. Dou Dou joins us in route to the main terminal and sees us through security and customs, where we get the VIP treatment. It was the following day when I learned that Richard had spoken to the Minister of Transportation of Haiti to be sure that our plane would be able to land at PaP and be given priority for a quick turn around. No stone left unturned where Richard is concerned. Although the plane from FL is late due to head wind issues, we are loaded and wheels up at 9:01 PM, one hour before the airport is closed due to high winds at 10:00 PM. Three hours later we have landed and cleared US Customs at Ft. Lauderdale and at 3:00 AM we are safely in Charlotte. Glory to our great God and many thanks to all who supported us throughout the ordeal.