Less than an hour after Montana nurse Michele Sare arrived in Haiti, the shaking started. The founder and CEO of the Granite County-based Nurses for Nurses International had safely landed in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 and traveled 20 miles by car to a nursing school in Leogone. Then a 7-magnitude earthquake rattled the impoverished island country, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead and 1.5 million homeless.
"It actually felt like someone was going to turn the vehicle over," explained Sare from the Seattle International Airport Tuesday afternoon on her way back home to Montana. "...It was a very violent shaking. And it just kept coming. [The aftershocks] were one right after another."
Sare, who lives in Hall, near Drummond, founded Nurses for Nurses less than a year ago. The nonprofit aims to educate and empower health care workers in poor nations. While in Haiti, she planned on gathering information to later teach a public health class for local nurses.
But that all changed once the earthquake hit. Rubble blocked roads. Gas lines lit on fire. People frantically flooded the streets.
"I'm not sure how to capture in words the horrific scenes driving from the airport through the city Port-au-Prince en route to Leogone," she said. "You've all seen the images on TV. Now imagine that that's your home. Imagine that's your child inside."
Sare cleaned cuts and cared for the injured from an impromptu trauma hospital on the grass in Leogone. All she had to quell pain was over-the-counter painkillers. Even so, "They'd say, 'Merci,' and give me a hug," she said.
The overall character of the Haitian people struck Sare. One woman who had been trapped beneath rubble for four days apologized to Sare for crying.
"You have never seen such strength, such beauty, such kindness," Sare said.
That's why she asks those following media coverage of the disaster at home not to get lost in stories of valor personified by local heroes.
"It's not about me. It's not about the nurses," she said. "It's about the people of Haiti."