As Gina Boccio stood in her boyfriend's mother's house in Haiti and the ground began to shake, her first thought was a big truck was passing by or that maybe they were being bombed.
The Bethpage 22-year-old quickly realized it was an earthquake. "I was shocked in the beginning, just holding my boyfriend's mother while the earthquake happened . . . we embraced each other."
But with aftershocks continuing into nightfall, the terror did not let up. "The ground just kept shaking all night . . . all you heard was people screaming," Boccio recalled Friday, standing alongside Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who helped Boccio's parents locate her in Haiti in the quake's aftermath.
Boccio and her boyfriend, Jeff St. Gerard, a native of Haiti, left Jan. 3 to visit St. Gerard's family in the capital, Port-au-Prince. They planned to leave Jan. 14 but became stuck in Haiti after the massive quake on Jan. 12. Boccio's family contacted Mangano the following day.
Last Friday, Mangano presented a citation to Boccio for her "wonderful act of kindness" and welcomed her home. Boccio and St. Gerard had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince following the quake and met up with a five-year old boy whose relatives in Haiti were all killed in the earthquake.
"He was pulled from the rubble . . . he had no possessions . . . someone was kind enough to give him shoes," said Boccio.
The boy, Stanley, was a U.S. citizen and efforts were underway to get him home to his mother in Brooklyn. Boccio and St. Gerard escorted Stanley during the flights via the Dominican Republic and on to Kennedy Airport, where his mother waited anxiously their arrival Jan. 15.
The tragedy, Boccio said, had altered her outlook on life."I want to use my life in a positive way now. Don't be selfish . . . try to lend a helping hand."
She expressed her gratitude to Mangano, saying she wondered if she would be able to return home.