CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- She wasn't sure she would survive the earthquake. But now, home in Charlotte, Pam Carter is hoping her story of survival will spur others to help Haiti as she was trying to do when the quake hit.
“It was like being in a roller coaster and not being strapped in,” says Carter.
There were moments this last week when Pam Carter couldn't believe what was right in front of her.
“It doesn't seem real. And then there would be the moments you think, 'I can’t believe this is happening to me, I can’t believe this is happening to them.”
The 54-year-old Charlotte mother of two had been in Port-Au-Prince for a Methodist conference on helping Haiti when the quake hit.
She was in the middle of sending an email home.
“Hi! We just finished our first day, and then it started!”
Carter had been through an earthquake before, and knew to get to a doorway.
“So I went to the opening and I held my hands up at the top, and my feet at the bottom, and held on. And it started shaking. I remember at one point thinking, I wonder if this house is gonna hold, but I held on and I remember thinking, if it doesn't hold I’m ready to go, but I didn't want my children to suffer,” recalls Carter.
The building she was in held up, but she quickly realized most around her had not.
“There was a school behind us and you heard screams and cries and wailing,” Carter says.
As the hours wore on, the Providence United Methodist Church missionary says the fear only grew.
“The scariest thing to me was not the 7.0, the scariest part was day after day, the aftershocks, you couldn't relax,” says Carter.
Especially worrisome, carter says some people from her group were missing. They'd been at the Hotel Montana which is now reduced to rubble when the quake hit.
So carter and a few others went to find them.
“We rode through the streets and saw the things you've seen on TV. All the devastation, dead bodies, people’s hands hanging out of buildings, dilapidated crushed concrete. I saw people digging through rubble with their bare hands desperate to find family members,” says Carter.
They never found their friends at the Montana, but the group later learned their friends had made it out okay.
Pam Carter’s next big hurdle – getting home
“We decided as a group we would go to the airport and try to get out and one of the first things that happened was a guy in fatigues from the Navy came out and he said the building is not stable and if I were you I wouldn't go in there,” says Carter.
She sat for hours.
“We waited and we waited and we waited in the hot sun. You were trying to figure out where is my next bottle of water coming from,” Carter recalls.
Finally, after more than 16 hours, the U.S. State Department helped her and other Americans onto a cargo plane.
“When it took off, people clapped and when it landed people clapped,” she says.
But safe in her Charlotte home Friday afternoon, Carter struggled with all she'd been through, all she'd seen. “I remember thinking when I took a shower, all that dust from Haiti was on me and people had died in that dust.”
And she knows how truly lucky she is.
“This is the thing about an earthquake, if you make a different decision in a moment it can change which part of the statistic you are,” says Carter.
Because when the quake hit, she'd been thinking about grabbing a coke at the local market before sending that email home.
“I decided well no, so I waited. And that was the market you see on the news,” says Carter.
She saw what was left as she left Haiti.
“There was a sister there looking up at the building and she could see the leg of her brother sticking out, you thought well, what if I'd have gone to the market?" says Carter.
And Pam Carter, who has been to Haiti seven times before on medical missions and to schools, says she'll go back. She has to.
“I want to make it clear, I’m gonna go back. When it’s time, I’ll go back and I’ ll try to get people to go with me. I’ve been doing that before and there’s more reason to do it now.”
Pam’s church has connected with a Navy ship that will head to Haiti on Friday.
They are asking the community for donations, specifically peanut butter, and canned goods.
If you’d like to help, you can bring things to Providence United Methodist Church at 2810 Providence Road at the corner of Sharon Amity and Providence Roads.
All donations have to be in by Thursday evening so they can get the goods to the ship.