San Antonio – A survivor of the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 is hoping her survival story encourages those in her home country to keep pushing forward.
Bethlie Paul, 21, resides in San Antonio as an occupational health intern with CPS Energy.
She said she got to the United States in March 2010, not long after the earthquake hit, which was January 12, 2010.
“It was really weird that day,” Paul said. “I was upset with my parents because I didn’t want to go to school but my mom forced me. I did the whole day and because I didn’t do my homework, I had to go to tutoring after school. My whole class actually didn’t do the homework so we all had to stay after for tutoring. It was right after 4:00 p.m. and we had just sat down when I started hearing this loud roaring out of nowhere. Like it was really loud and very unique sound.”
Paul said her life changed forever at that moment.
“Next thing I know, I was on the ground and the ceiling was like this close to my face,” she said. “I didn’t know what happened. The school building just fell on me.”
Sadly, her best friend passed away right next to her.
“I am not supposed to be here,” Paul said. “I was sitting right in a spot where a pillar was right above me. She ended up in that exact same spot that I was and I was thinking, ‘How did we switch?’ I knew it was her because when I was trying to move around I could feel her braids.”
Paul ended up being stuck under the rubble for seven hours.
“It was dark for a second and then I tried to move and get up and couldn’t,” Paul said. “I felt my leg was stuck under something. I tried to yank and yank and yank and it wouldn’t budge and I guess I passed out a couple times. It felt like 30 minutes and not seven hours. I heard my classmates trying to get water to me. I don’t know how I survived because I ended up way in the back and they were in the front. They couldn’t get the water to me because I was blocked in by pillars all around me.”
She said she began to hear her mother’s voice.
“That was what was so weird because out of all of the screams that was going on I could hear my mother’s voice,” Paul said. “I started yelling and yelling and yelling until my voice hurt and they found me. My uncle kept digging and digging and even when others gave up he said he was going to find me and he did.”
Paul said she was then rushed into an open field on a makeshift gurney.
“When I got out, I realized the thing I was tugging on was my leg bone,” Paul said. “It wasn’t plastic, it was my leg bone. I didn’t feel anything though when I was pulling on it. I think it was the adrenaline but I probably made the injury worst.”
She said it was foggy and the screams of the other people were piercing.
“You could hear everyone screaming for pain and for help and for the people who they lost,” she said. “It was a different kind of scream.”
Paul said the doctors in the field realized just how bad of an injury she had.
“They said if we didn’t get the bone back in my leg that it was going to get infected so without anesthesia or anything, they broke my bone back in place and I screamed so hard,” Paul said. “They didn’t have anything but a Bible to bite down on, so I bit down on that because it hurt so bad.”
After finally finding a van to drive them to the hospital, despite the aftershock that was going on, the nurses told her they could only fly two people to the United States.
“It was me and another kid who is now my best friend now and at first they told me I could take my parents but then they said I had to go by myself,” Paul said. “When I got here it was really, really scary to be away from my mom. I have never been away from her my whole life. A new country, new language, new people new everything. I was also in a lot of pain because of my leg.”
She stayed in the hospital for several months and still had to go to school.
Eventually, she was attending school in April and was speaking English as well.
At that time, she entered the lives of Steve Spriester and his family.
“They were some of the best people I have ever met,” Paul said. " It was so weird because they saw I was so scared but they treated me so welcoming and I wasn’t used to strangers being this nice to me.”
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Paul lived with Spriester’s family for a couple of years before she and her mother, who eventually moved to the states, moved out.
“I went to school and I left that school and went to Alamo Heights and tried out for the dance team and I got on,” Paul said. “The teacher said I had potential and then from there, I spent the next four years dancing on a leg that was broken in half four years prior. I was doing twirls and jumps and all of that.”
Paul said joining the dance team gave her a lot of confidence.
“That taught me how to stand up and perform and be myself and my sisters on the team helped me so much,” Paul said. “I got through high school and went to San Antonio College to be a nurse but then I soon realized that I didn’t like blood.”
She changed her career to occupational health nurse intern.
“It was more office work instead and I like that,” she said. The team I work with is very helpful. They helped me build myself in a professional way. It has been an amazing experience connecting to a bunch of 60 and 40-year-olds.
Throughout her success, Paul said she still suffers from PTSD.
“Loud noises trigger me,” Paul said. “Noises and seeing buildings crumbled up where they are reconstructing things downtown triggers me. I can’t look at them. It is many little things. In Haiti, they don’t believe PTSD is a thing. They feel it is something you can push to the side and keep going. When I got to the states, my foster parents told me that you have to seek help for this kind of thing.”
When she saw the most recent headlines, her heart sank.
“Honestly, I was shocked but I felt lucky to be alive,” Paul said. “It made me realize I was blessed because never in a million years could I have imagined I would be here. People kept calling me, seeing if I was ok and I put on an act like I was fine but deep down I wanted to scream and throw a fit because I did not know how to deal with this emotion because I didn’t think it would happen again.”
She said thankfully, her family is ok back in Haiti but she can’t help but have flashbacks.
“I just thought, ‘I am sorry’ because everything just flashed back,” Paul said. “That pain. Those screams. That fear of like, ‘Am I am going to make it to tomorrow? Am I going to see my family again? Is everyone dead? Is everyone ok?’ It was hard yesterday to sit there and not do anything because you can’t do anything, but I know what it feels like for those people to be hurting and wondering what happens next. To be lost.”
While that nation is going through a lot, Paul said she can only pray that something good comes out of it.
“It is going to be really hard at first but eventually it will be ok,” Paul said. “Haiti may not recover soon, but in the long run, I am hoping it will. Have hope and keep helping and something good will come out of this. That is what I believe because if I don’t believe anything else, I may go crazy but something good will come out of this.”
She had these encouraging words to say to those dealing with this destruction.
“Life is unpredictable,” she said. “Just wake up every day and say thank you and keep moving because you never know what could happen. It is going to be ok. There is help out there.”
Despite struggling with PTSD, Paul said she wants to pursue a career in psychology to help others and to raise awareness about mental health.