EDDINGTON, Maine — Jessica Frick isn’t quite sure how she summoned up the calm she needed to maneuver in earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for about three days, and then get herself out.
“That night I was in shock and there were still tremors all over the place,” Frick said Sunday morning, after arriving home safely in Eddington on Saturday evening.
Frick and Colby College roommate Yanica Faustin had lived through the magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Haiti last Tuesday, leaving unspeakable destruction in its wake.
“[That night] I really wasn’t affected by it,” said Frick. “I was just in the mindset of, ‘This is over.’ We were in a very safe place; it was very level. There were no buildings around us. I was trying to stay very calm. The worst was over.”
There were some scary moments yet to come for the 21-year-old Eddington native and graduate of John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, but by Saturday night, it was all over.
Frick landed at about 6 p.m. Saturday at Bangor International Airport after a journey that started late Friday night in a U.S. military plane from Port-au-Prince.
“I can’t even describe it,” Frick’s mother, Cindy Frick, said Sunday morning, about 16 hours after her daughter landed in Maine. “There’s been nothing like the fear that we felt, and then nothing like the feeling we felt to know that everything’s OK. We just all kind of kept looking at her last night. She had a good, long, hot shower and a good night of sleep in her own bed, and she’s doing very well. We’re proud of her and we’re glad she’s home.”
While Frick is home safe, and Faustin is back home in Brooklyn, Haiti is still dealing with the aftermath of one of the most devastating natural disasters in years.
Nobody knows how many died in Tuesday’s quake. Haiti’s government already has recovered 20,000 bodies — not counting those recovered by independent agencies or relatives themselves, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press on Sunday. The Pan American Health Organization said Sunday that 50,000 to 100,000 people may have perished in the quake.
Frick saw for herself the looting, destruction and death that followed the quake, and was a victim of a mugging the day after the earthquake struck.
Frick and Faustin were in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Caribbean island nation just east of Cuba, to visit Faustin’s father.
At the moment the quake hit, Frick said, she and Yanica Faustin were in a car driven by Faustin’s brother, Stefan, along with some of his friends. They were on their way to a friend’s house.
When the shaking began, Frick at first thought it might have been from driving over Port-au-Prince’s pothole-riddled streets. Then suddenly, a building near the car fell.
Again, Frick wasn’t sure what was happening. Her first thought was the building was being demolished. Later, Yanica Faustin would tell Frick she thought the building had been bombed.
“The car was still shaking and it was jumping all over the place,” Frick said.
Faustin’s brother stopped the car and told the group to gather their belongings and get out of the vehicle. The group started to run, although they didn’t really know where they were going.
“Everyone was screaming and yelling, and there was dust everywhere so you couldn’t see in front of you,” Frick said. “Pretty much it was a bunch of chaos for the first five minutes and there were buildings falling all around us. I couldn’t really feel the earthquake after that because we were running.”
All around, Frick said, chunks of concrete had fallen on cars.
The group, only about half-mile from Faustin’s father’s house in Haiti’s Bourdon district, eventually found their way. Panic set in as they approached the house and realized the tall office building next door had collapsed, but the Faustin home had withstood the quake and its aftershocks.
Faustin found some members of the household in a nearby parking area, but her father and two others remained missing for several hours. Her father and another woman returned home later in the day, and the woman who Frick said was the head of the household was pulled alive from the rubble of a school. The woman escaped with only scratches.
The next day, Faustin’s father took his daughter and Frick to downtown Port-au-Prince to see the destruction. Frick said she took her passport, a little money in case they found food and her camera.
Along the crowded streets they saw bodies covered with sheets and cardboard and people running with boxes out of abandoned stores. Frick took photos along the way.
At one point, she said, the three were walking single-file through some rubble, with Yanica Faustin behind her. She heard her roommate scream and felt her jump. Faustin’s father grabbed Frick’s arm and the group turned around.
A man standing behind them was holding a cinder block and speaking in Creole, one of the country’s two official languages (the other is French). The only word the man spoke that Frick could understand was something that sounded like “camera.”
Faustin’s father spoke to the man, but the negotiations apparently didn’t go well. The man grabbed hold of the camera by the loop of the wrist strap sticking out of Frick’s pocket, took the camera and walked away.
“Her dad was like, ‘It was either your camera or your life,’” Frick said.
Yanica Faustin had screamed, it turned out, because the man had ripped a necklace from her moments before.
With the streets as dangerous and crowded with rubble as they were, and uncertain about how the U.S. Embassy had held up in the earthquake, Frick said Faustin’s family felt it was best to wait a few days before trying to get the two young women out of Haiti. They subsisted on the food and water they had in the house, and early on Friday morning, Frick and Faustin packed their bags and were driven to the embassy.
The two filled out paperwork and waited at the embassy as women with children and the injured were evacuated first. After about 16 hours, Frick and Faustin were loaded into SUVs, driven onto the tarmac of an airport, and boarded a military plane. They landed in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.
From there, Frick called her parents, Cindy and Robyn Frick, in Eddington. Although they knew from e-mails and Faustin’s family that Jessica was safe, the family hadn’t heard her voice since the day before the earthquake.
“The first thing she said was, ‘I think I’m in Florida,’” Cindy Frick said. “It was an amazing feeling. We all sat up for a few more hours kind of looking at each other, crying and smiling, and then we heard from her about 3 or 4 in the morning that she had found a flight from Florida to Bangor.”
From Fort Lauderdale, Frick and Faustin flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and then Frick flew on to Bangor.
Robyn Frick was the first to spot her on the ground floor of Bangor International Airport, and then called the rest of the Fricks on their cell phones.
“We went down and I looked in the distance,” Cindy Frick said. “He was hugging her, and the rest of us took off running. The poor kid, she was suffocated for a while. I just kept looking at her face and kept saying, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’ We were all crying.”
Now that she’s home, Jessica Frick said she will take the rest of the month to rest and relax. Colby College is currently in a January term, during which students can devote their time to research and activities away from the school. After a few weeks of relaxation and recovery, she said she would return to Colby on Feb. 3 with the rest of her classmates for her final semester.
A psychology major with a concentration in neuroscience, Frick is doing an internship at an adoption agency in Waterville. She was adopted as an infant from China, and wants eventually to get into social work in the field of adoption.
It’s certainly the kind of profession that requires Frick’s ability to stay calm and cope with situations outside her control.
“She is amazing, she really is,” Cindy Frick said. “That helped a little bit, because we knew just how level-headed she was. That helped us get through those first few days, for sure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.