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In Petit Paradis, earthquake then tsunami

By Rich Phillips, Senior Producer
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Petit Paradis lost
  • Double disaster: Small tsunami after earthquake killed 7 on Haiti's western coast
  • Authorities must rely on eyewitnesses; Haiti doesn't measure waves with buoys
  • Sister Angelouis Michel: "As long as the people aren't hungry, they're very manageable"
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis
  • Disaster Relief

Petit Paradis, Haiti (CNN) -- Sitting in the shade away from the heat, Jean Frank is making a fishing net that he hopes will help him return to his life as a fisherman.

With a lifetime of experience behind him, the old fisherman said in Creole that it was the first time he had ever seen a wall of water come ashore. The tsunami apparently took the lives of at least seven villagers in the town of Petit Paradis, on Haiti's western coast.

"What can I say? That's life," he said, through a translator. "At the moment, things aren't good, things are difficult."

For the first time, residents of this coastal village are telling the story of a localized tsunami that hit here immediately after the 7.0 earthquake. The relatively small tsunami reached a few hundred yards into the village, which was devastated by the quake.

Steeve Badio is a fisherman here. His house was destroyed, as were the small canoes carved from wood he used to earn a living.

"The sea went back," he explained in Creole.

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"It sounded like a helicopter ... and then the waves came up," he said.

Badio says the water was higher than the trees, and when it returned back to the ocean, Badio's father was gone and so were his two nephews: 4-year-old Wolga and 2-year-old James. Badio says they haven't been able to have a funeral without their bodies.

Experts say earthquakes can cause localized tsunamis. Because Haiti does not have buoys to measure wave heights, authorities have to rely on eyewitness accounts to determine whether a tsunami occurred. A tsunami warning was issued at the time of the quake but was discontinued soon after.

The water also apparently swept away four other residents, including some who were doing laundry by the shore.

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Blanco Desnoyers is a 21-year-old fisherman. He lost his father, Suaver.

"I was over here, and I ran away. The water was chasing after my feet. The sound was like a rumble," he said.

Out in the distance, a lone tree stands. Residents say it used to be part of the beach, but now it's about 30 yards out in the blue ocean.

Villagers here at Petit Paradis, or Little Paradise, say they are still numb. Sister Angelouis Michel, a Haitian nun, arrived in her vehicle on Friday, bringing rice, water and Pop-Tarts. It was the first time that aid had reached the town had seen since the quake. Her car was swarmed.

Sister Michel says she has enough food for about 200 people.

"There is more food, but we can't continue with this disorder," she said. "We want them to calm down first, and then we will continue."

But she was forced to shut down the food line when the crowd got too exuberant and chased down her car.

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Up the beach a bit, U.S. Navy Seabees and Marines were making preparations and awaiting orders. They say they expect to start delivering food and aid to these people by the weekend.

"As long as the people aren't hungry, they're very manageable," said Renee Edme, has worked in this area for 10 years. She's a missionary from "Mission of Hope," based in Merrimack, Massachusetts.

"We saw the Marines late [Thursday], and that was the beginning of hope for all of us," Edme told CNN. "People are numb. I can't say they're desperate. But they're numb."

Edme says that villages and towns such as Petit Paradis were forgotten as rescue efforts and food distributions began in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. She says she's disappointed there wasn't a real effort to save people trapped in the rubble in these communities.

"People in the United States have been talking since day one about the outpouring of love from our country," she said. "And we keep hearing it and hearing it, but we don't see it. And that's disappointing."

And just off the beach, Jean Frank was still sitting in the shade, a little further along on the fishing net that is his future.

"Me? I'm not afraid," he says. "I'm old ... I take life as it comes."

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