Safe at home, Los Osos teen reflects on Haiti tragedy

When the second-story room where Morgan Groth of Los Osos was working on his computer began to shake violently, he dove under the bed — and waited what “seemed like forever’’ for the tremors to stop.

Growing up on the Central Coast, the 16-year-old had been taught at school to find cover during an earthquake.

However, it wasn’t until he fled the house, which still stood on a hill in southeast Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that he felt lucky to be alive.

“I looked out over the city and couldn’t see anything except clouds of white dust and smoke ... I could hear screaming coming from the city,” he said. “And every time an aftershock shook, they screamed louder.”

“I don’t think he realizes how lucky he was,” said his mother, Wendy Medhurst of Los Osos, after a reunion at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport on Thursday.

A U.S. embassy employee died when the house next door was flattened, and hundreds were reported missing from the collapsed Montana Hotel two blocks away.

Groth had been attending a private school in Port-au-Prince, where his father is an economic director at the U.S. embassy. However, his father, Gregory Groth, had left Haiti just seven hours before the quake to attend a meeting in Puerto Rico.

Morgan went back into the house once — where water from a cracked pool flowed over the floor — to fill a backpack with shoes, an extra shirt, socks, a laptop computer and his Xbox video game console.

A Haitian guard at the home — who communicated with the embassy through a radio — told Morgan he was not allowed to leave the home until a safe escort was arranged.

So he sat in the driveway as helicopters roared above, and he watched the sun set and dust settle on the devastation below.

A family friend later brought Morgan to the courtyard of a home where families shared tangerines and crackers and tried to sleep on mattresses through several aftershocks.

“I felt safer with them because I wasn’t alone,” Morgan said, “but I was scared that something would fall — that the building would fall, or the telephone poles.”

On Wednesday morning, Groth was brought to the still-intact U.S. embassy. Some Americans were receiving medical treatment, including a man who fell five stories from the Montana Motel.

“People were running around so fast and trying to get on the Internet to contact their families,” Morgan said.

The U.S. Coast Guard flew him and 30 to 40 other Americans to the Dominican Republic, from which he returned home.

Morgan said he is now communicating with friends in Haiti who still have Internet connections through e-mail and the Facebook social network.

“It’s upsetting that I can’t help in any way,” he said.

Morgan said his father is to fly from Puerto Rico to Washington to serve on an earthquake relief task force.

He said he will never forget the scenes of suffering he witnessed on his way out of the city: toppled concrete walls, bodies on the roadside, Haitians crying with their families, a dead baby and, most of all, people climbing on the rubble, trying to rescue their loved ones.

“I don’t really watch the news,” he said. “I have seen enough already.”