SANREM team escapes Haiti quake

A team of SANREM CRSP researchers from LTRA-6 was in Haiti when the devastating earthquake struck the island nation on January 12, 2010. The six Virginia Tech faculty members and one graduate student had left Port-au-Prince less than an hour before the disaster and were driving to the Central Plateau north of the city to begin field work.

Associate Program Director Keith M. Moore e-mailed these details: "We climbed the mountain face across from Port-au-Prince, and sometime near or after we reached the top, the earthquake must have hit. On the very winding and rough road, we didn't feel anything. When we arrived at the hotel in Mirebalais at 6 p.m. we learned of the earthquake, but the extent of the disaster was not apparent. The swimming pool at the hotel had become a tidal wave, the staff said, and we could see the water around the pool that had sloshed out."

The next morning, the team was evacuated by driving overland to the Dominican Republic. A Haitian Ministry of Agriculture chauffeur drove the SANREM team to the border before heading back to find his family in Port-au-Prince.

"Before leaving we checked in with a local partner at the Zamni Lasante headquarters in nearby Cange," Moore e-mailed. "They had sent doctors down to Port-au-Prince to help with the emergency during the night. SUVs were lined up in their compound with Haitians waiting to climb aboard to head down to Port-au-Prince to find and learn what had happened to their families and protect their property if they had any. It was a desperate situation with little or no knowledge."

The SANREM team managed to get a flight from Santo Domingo to the United States the next day. The team included professors James McKenna, Wade Thomason, and Katy Martin Rainey of Virginia Tech's Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences; Maria Elisa Christie and Keith Moore of the SANREM CRSP ME and Nathan Kennedy, a graduate student in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources. Nathan, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Dominican Republic, stayed to help with relief efforts. Professor Mark Alley of Virginia Tech had traveled to Haiti with the group but departed before the earthquake struck.

The SANREM research was temporarily discontinued in Haiti, but SANREM PIs returned to Haiti in March, research plots were planted in May, and the research is proceeding as planned.