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James Gulley Recalls 55 Hours in Earthquake Ruins

by Elliott Wright and Christopher Heckert

Jim Gulley
Jim Gulley
Image by: Cassandra M. Zampini
Source: GBGM Administration

New York, NY, January 19, 2010--"Praise God from whom all blessings flow…." The words could be heard by anyone standing near the rubble of the Hotel Montana in the small hours of the morning, January 15, 2010.

"To sing the Doxology was our instant response when we heard the French firemen say, 'We have come to rescue you,'" the Rev. James Gulley recalled in a lengthy telephone interview. He was one of six people trapped close together under tons of concrete when the hotel collapsed in the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.

All six people were alive when the French rescuers arrived. Four would survive the ordeal; badly injured, two others would die, one before rescue and another later on in a Florida hospital.

Gulley was in Haiti as part of a three-member team from the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church on a quest to improve medical services and agricultural practices in Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries. The other two were the Rev. Sam Dixon, head of the denomination's humanitarian relief agency, and the Rev. Clint Rabb, who led its office of voluntary mission service. Dixon and Rabb would not survive.

Gulley, 64, a former missionary in Nigeria and Cambodia, is a specialist in sustainable agriculture. In addition to his professional mission service, he has worked for the US Department of Agriculture and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria. He is now a consultant to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which was headed by Dixon, with a special focus on Haiti and the improvement of its health services and agricultural future.

"Happened So Fast"

"It all happened so fast," Gulley said of the earthquake. "We arrived at the hotel to meet with a team from Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA)." Sarla Chand, one of the IMA officers, was a good friend and had worked for Global Ministries. She had brought along Rick Santos, the chief executive of IMA, and Ann Varghese, a representative in Haiti.

"We were walking across the lobby near the registration desk going to have a bite to eat when the tremor hit. The ceiling fell on us, and large concrete support pillars tumbled around us. We all went down. Everything was pitch dark. The hotel was on the top of a steep hill and was four stories high. It seemed to be solid concrete.

"Some of us had cell phones that provided limited illumination. When the dust cleared, I could see that five of us were in a space of about 8 by 8, and that we had any room at all because some of the pillars were leaning at an angle against the registration desk. Ann, Rick, Clint, Sam, and I were in the same chamber.


"Sam said, 'My legs are broken." Clint said, 'My legs are broken, too.' Ann, Rick, and I would move around a bit, would sit up. My head was bleeding. I finally got it stopped after about an hour.

"Sarla was on the other side of one of the pillars. She found that she had some space to move around but there were no openings she could find. We could talk with her but not see her, except for her hand in one place. She had no illumination from even a cell phone light.

"Sam and Clint were side by side with large pieces of concrete across their feet and legs. Clint was lying on his side; Sam was flat on his back. It was like they were in a queen-sized bed."

Gulley described the 55 hours spent with no water and no food except for a lollipop that Santos had (for one of his children) in his briefcase and shared.

They heard a helicopter, but it went away. They yelled and tapped, the only responses coming from other persons trapped nearby.

"We made voice contact with Dan Woolley, an employee of Compassion International, based in Colorado, where I also live," Gulley said. "Dan had jumped into the cab of the elevator when the building shook. A colleague of his who was not in the cab was not so fortunate. Dan tried to climb up the elevator shaft, but it was blocked. He was able to talk with a hotel employee trapped higher up.

"Sam and Clint were both in such pain. Sam was at an angle that put strong pressure on his legs, so we used laptop computers to brace his back. It would help for a time, and then we would have to rearrange it. Rick had some Aleve, which provided a little relief of their pain.

"At one point we heard voices that seemed to come from outside. Sarla was close enough to speak to them and say we were trapped, but the people never came back."

Singing "Peace Like a River"

Time passed. Gulley was able to sleep for a short period of time. At one point he slithered under one of the downed columns but only found himself in another small space blocked by more large blocks of concrete. He went back to the group.

"We talked about faith, prayed together, and sang," Gulley said. "We sang 'Peace Like a River' several times.

By the second morning, those trapped could hear aircraft and explosions, which Gulley assumed were part of search and rescue efforts. The day moved on.

Gulley credited Chand, who was nearest to the outside, with helping the others to be found. After she was freed, she insisted that the rescuers keep digging.

"Then French firemen took our names and gave us water. I myself gave water to Clint and Sam, who were weak but still alive. Clint and Sam were also given medication and pain-killers.

"Four of us were put on stretchers and taken into the open where French doctors checked us over. Then we were turned over to the Americans, who provided further medical attention and gave us cell phones to call home. After a while we were taken to the US Embassy. It was about 3:00 a.m. when we left the site."

Gulley said he assumed that Dixon and Rabb would be freed and follow them. "We waited the next day, but they did not show up," he lamented.

After arriving back in the US, Gulley would learn that Rabb was brought from the ruins and sent to a Florida hospital, where he died on the morning of January 17. Dixon, according to several reports, did not survive until he could be freed.

"Neither Sam or Clint ever lost consciousness when I was there," Gulley said. "They were calm in the last few hours but responsive."

(Gulley talked informally and at length on the night of January 16 with the co-writers of this article.)

Elliott Wright is an author and consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries. Christopher Heckert is the director of Mission Communications and Marketing of the General Board of Global Ministries.

See Also...
Topic: Agriculture Emergencies GBGM news Health Poverty Water Focus on Ministry with the Poor Focus on Global Health
Geographic Region: Haiti
Source: GBGM Mission News

arrow icon. View Listing of Missionaries Currently Working in: Haiti   

Date posted: Jan 19, 2010