Courage and hope are still alive amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince
Disaster relief teams have arrived from around the world to try to save those trapped in the devastated capital
Sunday 17 January 2010
A two-year-old girl called Mia was rescued from a collapsed kindergarten in Haiti by Manchester firefighters. She had been trapped for three days under rubble in Port-au-Prince, but was rescued yesterday on the first full day of deployment for the 64-strong team. Late in the day, British firefighters rescued a man and woman from within the rubble of a supermarket, and a 39-year-old woman from a collapsed block of flats.
One Haitian woman was found on Friday near the Montana Hotel bar after a 17-hour operation by a search and rescue team from the US. The first thing she wanted? A glass of wine.
An Australian TV crew pulled a healthy 16-month-old girl from the wreckage of her house – some 68 hours after the earthquake struck. The crew was about to film an interview when neighbours and reporters heard the toddler's cries. "I could see a dead body, sort of on top of the cabinet; I could hear the baby on the left side of the body screaming," said David Celestino of the Dominican Republic, who had been working with the TV crew. Although her parents were dead, Winnie Tilin survived with only scratches and was soon in the arms of her uncle, whose pregnant wife was also killed.
The quake has shaken faith, as well as homes. One example: "It's a miracle," said Anne-Marie Morel, raising her arms to the sky after a neighbour was found alive in the rubble of a home. If one person could be resuscitated from the utter destruction of this street, there remained hope that many others could still be found alive, she said. "Nonsense, there is no God and no miracle," shouted back Remi Polevard, whose five children died in the quake.
Josyann Petidelle spent three days under the rubble before being found by relatives who dug for three hours to get her out. As flies buzzed around her open wounds, she kept her eyes wide open, staring into empty space without a blink. Most neighbours thought she was dead and medics told relatives to dump her body with the other corpses on the pavement. The family protested. So a Mexican rescue worker leaned over and felt the 19-year-old's throat. He looked up at her relatives. "She's alive," he shouted. A handful of doctors and nurses flocked to the woman and dripped water through her half-open mouth. Petidelle eventually burst out with a loud screech of pain, which the medics viewed as a good sign. Dov Maisel, a doctor who had just arrived from Israel with the aid group Zaka, said she seemed to have internal injuries. Her condition would be assessed at Port-au-Prince's main hospital, he said. "But I think she'll live."
On Thursday and Friday, international teams made 59 rescues, but time is running out to save anyone who may still be trapped alive in the many buildings in Port-au-Prince that collapsed. "Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr Michael Van Rooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston.
After people have been pulled from the ruins, where – in a city whose eight hospitals have been knocked out – do they go? One answer is the home of Claude Surena, 59, a paediatrician, who has converted his house into a field hospital for more than 100 quake victims. His patients are treated in the shaded, leafy patio of his undamaged home. "I have to thank whoever brought me," said Steve Julien, who says the last thing he remembers before he blacked out was rescue workers calling his name as they dug through the rubble of his house. When he woke up, he was lying on a mattress inside Dr Surena's soothing oasis.
The conditions at his home are far from ideal. Plastic buckets serve as toilets, and for some patients, Dr Surena can do little more than change dressings. But they are better off than many in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of three million people. He has been tending his ward with the help of two other doctors, including a Florida-based gynaecologist, Frantz Python, who was in the area when the earthquake struck. Eighteen patients have died. No case hit him harder than a pregnant woman who died shortly after her contractions started on Tuesday night. Despite a rudimentary Caesarean section, the baby died.
Apart from having a lot of medical teams in Haiti, Cuba also helped by waiving its ban on US planes using its air space, as it evacuated the wounded from Haiti, a move that shaves 90 minutes off flights to Miami.
Amid death, a new life. At the Médecins Sans Frontières emergency centre in the capital, surgeons performed a complicated Caesarean birth, mission director Stefano Zannini said. "I am proud to share with you that we were able to save the lives of both the baby and the mother."
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