SEATTLE - For Robert Otwell and his family here in Western Washington, the past six days are a mix of not knowing, waiting for word, and finally a reunion early this afternoon at Sea-Tac Airport.
After finally securing a visa for his Haitian wife and catching a U.S. military cargo plane out of the country, Robert and Ketsia Otwell were on Alaska Airlines flight 17 from Miami to Sea-Tac, six days after a close call with Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude quake that killed tens of thousands.
Waiting at the bottom of the escalator in baggage claim are brother Shon, his family, mother Johnette Fabra and even Robert Otwell's boss. For his mother especially, the last few moments of waiting seemed the longest Other than a text message, the family had not been in direct contact since Robert Otwell left more than a week earlier for Haiti.
As the pair came down the escalator there were tears and hugs and the knowledge for this family the nightmare is over, but also there is the realization that back in Haiti the staggering level of death and damage remains.
Robert Otwell arrived in Haiti just hours before the quake hit. In fact, he was sound asleep in the second floor of his wife's sister's house recovering from jet lag when the shaking started. He says he remembers waking up as a window popped loose, then another window and a lamp hit the floor as the bed moved around the room.
Ketsia Otwell ran back into the house to find him, and pulled him out into the street. The house did not collapse like the others next to it, but it's no longer considered liveable.
Two days later, Otwell was able to get out a text message that he was OK. The other local connection to this story is that he used the cellphone company Voila, which is owned by Bellevue-based Trilogy International Partners, which was able to quickly get much of their system back up and running.
Otwell had flown to Haiti to try to bring his wife to the United States after four years of marriage. They had an interview set up at the embassy. After the quake, Otwell could have caught an evacuation flight out, but since he was not able to get a visa for his wife, decided to stay behind. Finally, he was able to get his wife that visa and the two flew out together on a military evacuation flight.
The family has set up a fund for the couple and is accepting donations. Ketsia Otwell left Haiti with only the clothes on her back. The fund is called the Robert Otwell Haiti Fund at Key Bank. Proceeds will also be donated to Haitian relief efforts.