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Haiti survivor: ‘We just fell down’

MANATEE — When the monster quake hit, Previl Thomas remembers hearing a huge “boom,” and then being thrown to the floor.

“I was talking with my family, and I heard some noise, like a ‘boom-boom,’ ” the truck driver recalled this week after his return flight from Haiti to the United States.

He grabbed his wife’s arm as they lost their footing: “We just fell down,” he said.

In a moment, everything in the house was broken.

They didn’t know what had happened.

“How do you know something like that?” said Thomas, 53, a U.S. citizen.

“We didn’t even know what it was!” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Since he emigrated to this country in 1990, Thomas has worked and sent money home to Haiti, where his wife and children continued to live.

A couple of times a year, he takes his vacation to visit them.

That’s what he was doing at the family home near Port-au-Prince when the quake hit.

Once the family concluded that they had survived a massive earthquake, they realized how fortunate they were to be alive.

“We said, ‘Oh, my God, everybody’s OK,’ ” he remembered. “Everybody started crying, you know.”

In the street, people were screaming.

All but a couple of the neighbors’ houses on their block had been flattened.

Bodies lay in the road among the rubble.

They heard another boom, probably one of many aftershocks that rocked the neighborhood about 20 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince.

“Our house was standing, but nobody wanted to sleep in the building,” Thomas said.

His four children range in age from 4 to 29.

Six days after the Jan. 12 quake, his vacation time was up.

When he went to the airport, customs officials checked his U.S. passport, and waved him onto a U.S. Air Force plane. It landed at Orlando.

He drove a rental car back to his modest apartment in the 1000 block of 57th Avenue Drive East.

The next day, as he was supposed to, he went back to work.

Now, he is trying to file the proper paperwork to bring his family members here, he said.

He came to the United States seeking a better life, and found it.

Back in Haiti, he found something else.

When asked why he was spared, he had a one-word answer:

“God,” he sighed.