Rescuers race against time to save more lives in Haiti

Eighteen teams are hacking through the rubble to reach victims
Click to follow
The Independent US

It was the kind of moment that makes the hours of struggle worthwhile. Spanish firemen had battled for hours to reach him, a terrified toddler who lay trapped beneath tons of shattered concrete inside his home.

Until the search teams arrived, his parents could do little more than claw desperately at the rubble with their bare hands as their two-year-old son's cries grew weaker.

But in the early hours of yesterday morning, Radjeson Hausteen Claude was finally freed – a brief moment of elation and joy amid the chaos and misery of Port au Prince's destruction.

At first the toddler appeared bewildered as he was brought out from under the rubble, covered in dust and dried blood, an angry wound visible on the left side of his skull. But as soon as he was placed in the arms of his ecstatic mother, he cracked a blinding grin, as if the horror of the last two days had disappeared in an instant.

Hours later, a British team of rescuers freed a two-year-old girl who had been trapped under piles of rubble at a kindergarten school for three days. The girl was named as Mia by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, whose firefighters were involved with the rescue.

Mike Thomas, chief officer of the fire and rescue team, said: "This is a real boost to us all. This is what we do the job for. The conditions we are working in our pretty dire. The local people have no food and water and are suffering in more ways than one." Rescuers said the success came following a "lengthy and difficult operation in high temperatures".

For the 18 international teams battling to pull survivors out from under the wreckage of Haiti's capital, the next 48 hours will be vital to saving lives. With no army, a shattered central government and a police force that has simply melted away, the international rescue teams are the best hope for anyone buried alive. So far some 50 people have been pulled from buildings alive, and rescuers hope many more can be saved in the coming days.

"Every day is critical," said Graham Payne, the chairman of Rapid-UK, an independent British rescue charity.

As Spanish firemen freed Radjeson, search and rescue specialists from Iceland – the first international team to land in Port au Prince – were already working on their second building. They had spent more than 24 hours at the Caribbean Market, a luxury four- storey plaza which collapsed in on itself, trapping hundreds. In the end three women were pulled out alive from the wreckage before the rescuers decided it was time to move on.

"After the third woman there were no more signs of life," Urdur Gunnarsdottir from Iceland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Independent. "The sniffer dogs, the sound detectors, they all went quiet. At some point you have to move on to another building because there are so many people still trapped."

In the course of Thursday evening American rescue teams pulled eight survivors from the Hotel Montana, one of the hotels favoured by foreign tourists. Yesterday morning they discovered another survivor, a 60-year-old American man.