When the seven-point earthquake shook Haiti 16 miles from Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 at 4:53 p.m., Todd Anderson didn’t know what to do.
He and 10 other men from Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church had been planning to leave for Haiti in February on the church’s annual trip to help with the Lazarus Project.
“When the earthquake hit in January we weren’t sure we’d be able to go as planned,” said Anderson, of Temple Terrace. “All commercial flights were canceled.”
As they waited to see if flights would be resumed in time for their expected departure, they began gathering supplies to give away if they reached the island. Each member was allowed to bring two boxes with a limit of 50 pounds.
While Anderson was getting ready for the trip, Army National Guard Major Matt Jonkey was in Haiti helping with the rescue efforts.
Jonkey, of Nevada, is the featured helicopter pilot in the IMAX film Rescue, which opens today at MOSI. The movie follows the story of first responders who were on hand after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
Jonkey was at MOSI Wednesday during a pre-opening screening of the film. About 100 people attended the screening, and then listened eagerly as Jonkey answered their questions about the rescue mission.
One audience member asked who was in charge of managing the logistics of rescue efforts.
“In the beginning days, not anyone,” Jonkey said. “Southern Command took over and, internationally, a NATO force took charge.”
Another asked how he gave out supplies.
“You can create a riot just by coming in to help, so you just do your best to give out supplies as fairly as possible,” he said.
The men in Anderson’s group finally learned that they would still be able to fly to Haiti. The earthquake made them even more eager to take the trip, Anderson said. They were convinced they could be of real help.
Anderson recalled what he saw when he arrived on Feb. 18.
“Everywhere you went, the airport, Port-au-Prince, was destroyed,” Anderson said. “We claimed our bags at the airport under a tent.”
Begun by a group of Lutheran pastors from South Florida including local pastor Dick Hafer, the Lazarus Project has grown to include a school and orphanage and, coming soon, a health clinic. The house where the men stayed was located in Port-au-Prince. It had sustained some damage that the team was able to repair.
“We gave away packages to families working in the Lazarus Project of medical supplies, tarps, plastic liner material and rope,” Anderson said.
Anderson praised the Haitian people he met as very hard working and cooperative.
“It was remarkable: You go there thinking you are going to help and you come back changed by the people you meet,” he said. “I guess part of changing the world is changing yourself.”