"I felt that violent shaking of the ground. I saw broken houses and dead people in the streets."
Christelle Dasny, a senior environmental engineering major, was just one of the almost 10 million people affected by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which rippled eternal cracks throughout Haiti's cultural infrastructure on Jan. 12, 2010.
Haiti would never be the same.
Five years later, students who had to flee their native country because of the calamity reflect on the changes that altered their lives and future.
Ley Nezifort, a junior computer engineering major, and Dasny were both living in Haiti during the time the earthquake hit. With similar experiences, they were both victims of emigration and dispersed families.
Nezifort moved to Palm Beach with his aunt and was forced to adjust to another culture as well as take care of his two younger siblings.
"My dad and I got together and my mother as well. We got together to think about what to do moving forward. Everything we had vanished …" he said. "We had to start at zero — that is why my dad thought about coming over here for a better option."
Because the schools that were ravaged by the disaster wouldn't be up and running for many years, Dasny and her sister moved to the states as well.
The death toll during the earthquake peaked at more than 230,000 people, according to CNN's Haiti Earthquake Fast Facts.
Marckenley Fertil, a senior mechanical engineering major, was living in Miami during the catastrophe, but the loss of friends and family members erased the physical distance between Haiti and Miami.
"I still remember that day like it was yesterday … some of them are dead and we don't even know. The worst thing is you cannot find some of the remains," he said.
Like many Haitians who were not in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, communication with family was limited and despair rested over the focus of Fertil's reality.
"I could not get in contact with nobody for at least three days. I was really worried because I did not know if my family was good. I was in front of the TV to find out what people were up to," Fertil said. "I could tell you I was heartbroken."
In spite of the fear he faced, Fertil, who attended Miami-Dade College at the time, gave back by collaborating with professors and students to provide free psychological counseling, event fundraisers and donations of food, clothes and money to various nonprofit organizations on campus.
Moving forward, Haiti has already started the process toward recovery. But as a third-world country with very limited resources and government personnel, the country still has some strides to take before it is fully restored.
Students such as Fertil, Nezifort and Dasny use Haiti's slower progression as a tool and motivation to how they can help.
Dasny plans on being involved with nonprofits, while Nezifort wants to eventually move back to Haiti and become president.
Fertil, president of Club Kreyol at UCF, influences club members to continue their education so that they can combine their learned credentials in order to fill the void of engineers, doctors and teachers needed in the Haitian community.
Shanae Hardy is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.