A San Rafael woman who survived Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti then stayed behind to help children injured in a school collapse wants to spread the word that aid is desperately needed in rural communities outside the capital.
Barbara Wander, 65, arrived in Haiti on Jan. 5. She has traveled to the country several times a year for the past nine years to volunteer at a school in Riviere Froide, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, and at an AIDS and tuberculosis hospital in nearby Signeau.
When the 7.0-magnitude quake hit shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wander was in a van with several other people, including two nuns, a group of volunteers from Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia and the Pasternak family from Nicasio - Mark, Myriam and their two daughters, ages 12 and 15.
Her husband and daughters returned home to SFO Saturday night.
On Tuesday, the group was returning to Riviere Froide from Signeau, where they had spent the day building rabbit hutches as part of a volunteer project. They were nearing their destination when the earthquake struck, and when they arrived they found that the three-story school and the guest quarters had collapsed.
Their lives may have been saved by the fact that they were running late that day.
"That whole gang of them in that van were going there for dinner and staying at the guest house," said Wander's sister, San Anselmo resident Therese Stawowy.
The group went to work trying to rescue as many children as possible from the rubble. Mark Pasternak said 25 children were pulled out alive by Wednesday morning. They also removed the bodies of nearly 30 deceased children, he said.
The survivors have been sleeping outside in the school's courtyard. They were eating fruit from nearby trees, but the supplies were dwindling.
"Their water supply has really, really become very limited," Stawowy said.
They have also had to contend with people Wander calls "robbers," common in Riviere Froide even before the earthquake, who show up and demand food and supplies, Stawowy said.
Wander told Stawowy that when the robbers came by the other day she told them, "Take anything, we don't have much."
As of Friday, no aid had arrived and there was no word on whether or when it would.
The problem is not isolated to Riviere Froide; aid workers from around the world have flocked to Haiti, but widespread difficulties have been reported in connecting the aid workers and their supplies to the earthquake victims.
Stawowy noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Haiti this weekend, but said that is little comfort to those at Riviere Froide.
During their brief phone conversation Friday, Stawowy told Wander, "You've got to stop working so hard."
Wander's response, Stawowy said, was, "I can't; it's the only thing that keeps me going."
The American Red Cross is accepting donations by phone at (800) RED-CROSS, or (800) 257-7575; on its Web site at www.redcross.org; or by text. Those wishing to donate $10 by text message can text "HAITI" to 90999.
Bay City News