Karl Delatour was sure the world was ending as he felt his house shake violently.
As the tremors flung water over his 4-story house, he braced himself in a door frame as his country fell apart.
Delatour’s mother, Haitian first lady Elisabeth Preval, and stepfather, President Rene Preval, were at the president’s residence when the tremors started. Delatour was home alone with his younger brother.
“It’s like you’re in a jar and somebody’s going like this,” he said of the experience, putting his hands around an imaginary jar and shaking it.
When the shaking stopped, Delatour and his younger brother ventured out to find their grandparents’ house leveled.
“When I got there, it was just flat on the ground, like every other house in the neighborhood,” he said. “Flat on the ground.”
After crying out for his grandparents, Delatour heard a woman’s screams from the same building. The woman, who had lived a floor above his grandparents, was covered by rubble – only her head was visible.
Delatour and a handful of other men pulled the debris off of her and pried her broken body out of the rubble. She lay on a piece of cardboard for three days before medical help was available.
Months later, the woman wrote a letter of recommendation for the boy who saved her life, and Delatour sent it to every college that he applied to – including the GW School of Business, where he is now a freshman.
“It was something that made me really happy to see,” he said. “The thought of actually saving a life, saving somebody’s life was not something that I expected to do in my entire life.”
His grandparents’ bodies were later recovered from the rubble thanks to international aid, he said.
“It was probably the most depressing time of my entire life, having to lose both of my grandparents at the same time,” he said.
Delatour was relocated to Miami to finish his secondary education after his school was closed. He said it was unclear whether or not he would attend college that year. After spending time in Miami, Delatour decided to apply to GW.
His mother, who received her master’s in business administration from GW in the 1980s and who spoke about the earthquake at an event held in the Elliott School of International Affairs last March, encouraged her son to apply.
“I was very much satisfied not only with the quality level of the education at GW, but also the environment in Washington, D.C.,” Preval said.
Delatour said he didn’t know anybody before he came to the District, but when he did he felt like he was part of a family.
“I really felt like I was at home like I could actually count on people here,” he said.
A year after the earthquake, Delatour enjoys pastimes typical of most freshmen.
The Clark Hall resident loves the independence of college life, has made a tradition of Friday-night dinners at Bertucci’s, and goes to study sessions in Gelman with his friends.
As much as he enjoys the District, Delatour hopes to return to Haiti after he graduates to help the rebuilding process.
“At every occasion that arises, I try to put Haiti back in the spotlight because the common belief now is that things are getting a lot better and things are not,” he said.
While he is grateful for international aid, Delatour hopes that in time his country can also depend on itself to recover and rebuild. The country is still struggling to meet its citizens basic needs and a cholera outbreak ravaged through the capital last fall.
“What I think is needed at this point is for Haiti to be able to take care of itself,” he said.