Norm Ouellet’s Kootenay home is separated from Haiti by 5,287 kilometres of land and sea, but when a devastating earthquake hit the tiny island nation, it may as well have happened in his own backyard.

Ouellet’s 17-year-old son Blake and 17 classmates had just landed in Port-au-Prince to begin volunteer work at a rural mission when a massive earthquake hit the capital city, instantly turning buildings to rubble and killing an estimated tens of thousands.

For five devastating hours, Ouellet and his wife, Joyce, waited for word as to whether the teenagers and their chaperones had survived.

“We didn’t know where they were,” he said from his home in South Slocan yesterday. “It’s about a two- or three-hour drive through Port-au-Prince to get to the missionary. We had no idea if they had made it or not.”

Waiting for news, he said, was “absolutely horrible.” When they did receive confirmation that everyone was fine, it came via email from a third party, and they’re still waiting anxiously for direct contact with the kids.

“From what we understand they … spent the night in the buses in a field,” Ouellet said.

“You watch the news and see what’s happening there, and we’re very fortunate they made it through Port-au-Prince.”

He added that Blake and his friends will likely be helping the hundreds of Haitians who have apparently come to the mission for help.

“Obviously the scope of their project has changed immensely, but they’re the type of kids that would work with the Haitians and help out.”