An abrupt decision to change his travel plans is the reason Ramesh Lutchmedial survived Haiti's devastating 7.3-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday. Lutchmedial, director general of the T&T Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), arrived there on Tuesday at 4 pm for a Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System board meeting. He and 17 other director generals from the Caricom and OECS were booked at the Montana and Karibe Hotels. Lutchmedial and four other director generals, among them Gregory Mc Alpin, director of Flight Safety Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority were booked at the Montana. But Lutchmedial did not arrive with them because he changed his flight from 9.55 am, from Miami to Haiti, to 2.05 pm. He never made it to the hotel. It was flattened and three of his four colleagues remain missing.
A release from the Foreign Affairs Ministry late yesterday said the ministry had been advised that Lutchmedial and Mc Alpin were the only two T&T nationals in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Mc Alpin has been living in Antigua for the past 11 years. The release said efforts were being made to have Mc Alpin flown out of Haiti. The release did not say whether Mc Alpin would be brought to Trinidad. In a telephone interview earlier from Jamaica Lutchmedial said: "I arrived in Haiti around 4 pm (Tuesday) and was on my way to the Montana Hotel when the devastating earthquake struck, approximately at 5 pm. "The airport and the hotels are on opposite sides of Port-au-Prince. "I was in the bus taking pictures along the way when I heard a whistling sound. I thought there were mechanical problems with the vehicle, maybe the shocks or the suspension."
Lutchmedial said houses and buildings around him suddenly collapsed and it was then he realised it was an earthquake. He said: "The vehicle was shaking violently. It was a very intense shake. I remained calm." Frightful images of injured people, screaming and bleeding, play like a movie in his mind, he said, after spending close to two days in the ravaged country. "I saw a man running with a baby in his arms. The baby's head was crushed. All along the way to the Montana I saw thousands of injured people. A woman from New Zealand, who said she worked for an international agency, approached me, with bleeding hands, begging for help to rescue her husband and three daughters, one of them a baby. They were trapped on the ground floor of an apartment building," he said.
Lutchmedial said he shouted for help but was told it was too dangerous to attempt to move the debris. The Karibe Hotel also collapsed. Lutchmedial said he spent Tuesday night on a lawn tennis court without running water, electricity, telephone and toilet facilities. He said at sunrise on Wednesday the sight was horrific. He added: "There were children crying, heavy pieces of concrete and dead bodies piled high. People lined the streets, homeless and with hopelessness. My heart bled for them, especially the children." The group managed to make it to the Haitian Civil Aviation Authority, close to the airport, where there was Internet access.
Intent on trying to locate his colleagues, he said he went to the Montana ruins and the United Nations Hospital but his efforts were futile. "By late Wednesday afternoon, we re-assessed our situation, with respect to food, water, security, accommodation and reliable communication, and decided we had to leave Haiti. "Through the Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority, ten of us left on a private charter flight to Jamaica. We still have no word on our missing colleagues." Grateful for life, he is looking forward to meeting his family and loved ones. "I thank God for life," he said. He is expected to return home today.