PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Mandi McBride and Carol Smith were going up the stairs of an orphanage seven miles from the city center when the shaking started Tuesday.

These Logan women were carrying loads of toys to the eight babies a floor above them when they heard a loud boom that sounded like a bomb, and everything began to rock violently.

McBride said all she could think about was saving the screaming babies that began flying across the room and rolling back and forth just a couple of steps in front of her.

"I needed to get in there and get as many kids as I could," McBride said. It was all she could think about when the earthquake hit.

She dived on the ground trying to dodge the shelves that were falling down around her and was able to grab about four terrified babies in her arms and move to the side of the room.

"I sat near the wall until it stopped," McBride recalled. "It only lasted about four minutes, but it seemed like it lasted for hours. It was like everything was happening in slow motion. I just knew we were all gone. I was praying as hard as I could. I've never been so close to death in my life."

Just steps behind, clinging to the side of the stairwell, Smith waited out the first tremble, with about 40 more to come over the next couple of days.

McBride said she could hear a woman downstairs, who has been in Haiti for about five months, screaming "help me, help me" as dishes were crashing and walls were caving in.

As soon as the shaking stopped, Smith ran into the upstairs room and helped McBride quickly carry the eight babies, uninjured, to the front of the building.

Looking around the Ruuska Village orphanage, located in Bon Repos a few miles outside of Port-au-Prince, McBride saw that each of the 12 buildings had at least a few walls down, but everyone in the village had survived. "There were lots of cracks and lots of damage," she said.

They were the lucky ones, though: all the homes next to the village collapsed, McBride said.

McBride and Smith are both emergency room nurses who landed in Haiti Monday for a mission trip that was supposed to last about a week, but their purpose there changed the minute the shaking started.

McBride has been going to Haiti every three months or so since she started the adoption process of her two children, Schnaider, 4, and Charbine, 17, who have now been living in Utah with her and her husband Kevin for nearly two years.

McBride and Smith said many Haitian families know about Ruuska Village and have come seeking medical attention. The women have been treating broken arms and legs and stitching up lacerations faster than they ever did before.

Friday, they went to the United States consulate and were helping army medical teams treat patients.

"I feel like I am where I need to be right now," McBride said. "And we are doing everything we can to help out everyone we can."

Barbara Ann Walker, originally from New York, runs the Ruuska Village and has lived in Haiti since she was asked to come help out there 23 years ago.

Walker said she couldn't be operating the orphanage as she is without Smith and McBride.

"Mandi and Carol have been absolute saviors to our program here," Walker said. "I don't know what I would have done without them here right now. They have been an unbelievable blessing to me."

Walker has seen a lot of tragedy living in Haiti and traveling around the world. This 65-year-old woman was one of the first people in Burma after cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008. She also went to Thailand after a tsunami devastated coastal areas in December 2004.

She's been in earthquakes before, but she thought a bomb went off when the shaking happened and smoke filled the air around her Tuesday afternoon.

"I said it could never get worse here, but I stopped saying that five years ago," Walker said.

She said Haitian children often die from diarrhea, fevers or drinking bad water. Any time it rains, most of the orphans get sick. Seventy-five percent of Haitians don't have jobs, she said, and that number is now around 90 percent due to the quake.

The exchange rate has also plummeted since the earthquake, and many of the supplies being sent to Haiti are being sold on the street, instead of going to victims.

Right now her village is one of the only ones with some supplies, little as they may be. They have been running off of generators since the earthquake but haven't been able to find more fuel, and they will also run out of food soon if they don't find any more. She said she has 45 babies at her orphanage who all are in need of baby food.

Walker went with a couple others into the city Friday afternoon to try and search for or buy more supplies, but they weren't able to find any.

"The city is completely destroyed," she said. "The department of justice, the palace … the post office are all gone. The parks are filled with dead bodies. Everyone is wearing a mask because the smell is so bad."

She said no one can afford to bury the bodies, so they are just getting them out of the rubble and dumping them on the side of the road. People will then come along and peel clothes from the dead bodies because they have nothing.

She said most people are afraid to go in their houses even if they are standing because of the aftershocks, so those who survived are sleeping outside in the mosquito-filled air.

"Haiti has already been a disaster for the last 35 years," Walker said. "They just haven't had a break. I can't see them recovering from this, I can't. Haitians survive, that's all they do, one day at a time."

Looting has already started, Walker said, and she fears for her village because it has supplies right now.

She does have some hope for her orphans, though, as 12 of them who have already been adopted obtained visas on Friday, and 12 more should be getting visas next week.

She said if she could send one message out to America it would be: "Follow your heart if you wish to donate, but follow your mind and donate intelligently. There are too many fraudulent groups, and supplies often end up being sold on the street instead of being given to the right people."

Walker has three daughters and two of them are trying to get down to Haiti as soon as they can.

McBride and Smith are hoping to get on a flight to Florida Tuesday and then on one back to Utah Wednesday.

McBride is looking forward to seeing her family and taking a nice, warm, clean shower.

She'll be back to help rebuild the village soon, but Smith isn't sure if she'll ever go back.

Walker, though, is in Haiti for the long haul.

"Some day I want to sit in front of my television, sit and just relax, drink a Coca-Cola, eat chips and watch CSI," Walker said. "Almost every time I escape to the U.S., that's what I do. But realistically, I know I'll die down here. There is no way of getting out. There's always another starving baby, another person who needs your help. How can you just walk away? I would like to be selfish and do that, but I can't."

Story reported from Provo.

e-mail: slenz@desnews.com