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Local woman's tale of survival in Haiti: 'God got me out of there'

BRADENTON — Sleep was impossible for Jeanne Valescot.

Surviving kept her awake.

It was the night of Jan. 12 in the town of Leogane, just west of Port-au-Prince, hours after a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti.

Shattered homes were all around. Corpses of children and old people, too.

“It was traumatizing,” said Valescot, 30, a lab technician at Pinnacle Medical Group on 75th Street West. “I was lying on the street like everybody else and there were still aftershocks. Every aftershock people were screaming.”

Valescot had arrived that morning with her mother and brother for her grandfather’s funeral the following Saturday.

It was almost her funeral, instead.

That Valescot made it through the ordeal is remarkable.

A miracle, said the Southeast High alum.

“God got me out of there,” she said.

Valescot was at an aunt’s two-story home, trying to nap on the second-floor as other people visiting for the funeral went in and out.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the earthquake hit.

“The house starts shaking and I fell off the bed,” Valescot said. “I tried to get up, I held onto a door, find mom on the floor and screamed for help. As soon as we made it down, I grabbed a little girl from the rubble and her grandma, whose house had already fallen.

“A few minutes later our house collapsed.”

Everyone inside escaped, but Valescot’s purse containing her driver’s license, passport and return plane tickets were buried.

Her cell phone, too.

Until Valescot managed to reach her daughter in Bradenton on Wednesday morning, Pinnacle colleagues feared the worst.

“We were calling non-stop. Not knowing what happened to her was upsetting for us,” said lab technician Audrey Gambone.

“When we did find out she was OK, it was a huge relief,” said Janice Sorenson, Pinnacle’s chief operating officer.

Valescot’s family buried her grandfather the next day, a simple ceremony under difficult circumstances.

“The (damaged funeral home) called my mom to get the body. They didn’t want to be responsible for it,” she said. “All the churches had collapsed, so we couldn’t have a normal funeral, but we buried him in a cemetery.”

Valescot wasn’t done.

She had planned to eventually bring back her father and aunt, who live in Haiti and lost their homes, but dreads the paperwork was lost in the earthquake.

That’s not all.

“He’s diabetic, had a foot amputated last summer and he can’t get insulin,” Valescot said. “He’s just sitting on the street, eating whatever they hand him. I’m afraid he might die. I want him here.”

Three days after the earthquake, Valescot flew to Homestead on a military transport, but is doing everything she can — sending money, contacting service agencies — to save her loved ones.

“A lot of people died because they ran back into their houses,” she said. “They thought it was their safest place. It wasn’t.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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