Haiti earthquake diary: Eyewitness to a Miami-Dade team rescue
Five days after the Haiti quake, a Miami-Dade County rescue team digs into a collapsed home, attempting to pull three children out.
Sunday, Jan. 17Skip to next paragraph
Kathie has lived and worked as a writer in Haiti for more than 20 years. Her memoir, "Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Voudou, and Civil Strife in Haiti," is about her life in Haiti with her former husband, a Haitian musician, and their son.
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It’s about 4 p.m. as I head back toward the hotel. I decide to stop by the site of the former Citibank, just to see if anyone there now knows what happened to the woman who was directing her own rescue the night after the quake. I’m hoping for good news.
The site looks pretty much like it did on Wednesday, only there are international rescue workers here now. A young woman approaches me.
There is someone trapped in a house nearby, she says. She’s young, earnest, and pleads with me to bring help. She’s calm, level-headed, and I believe her. I approach the rescue squad, which is from Mexico, and one of the men says he will come with me to check it out.
We drive down Delmas 30, turn left on rue Charlemagne, and go halfway down the block to where a crowd of people has gathered. We run down the alley to a house in the back, climb up the rubble onto the roof of another building, and now we are directly in front of the collapsed home.
There are two Brazilian television crews here, and a bunch of curious Haitians. The Brazilians say they captured the sound of a girl’s voice on their microphone. The Mexican rescue worker asks everyone to be quiet.
One of the Haitians taps on a wall of the house. Someone inside taps back.
I’m breathless. It’s Sunday night, five days after the quake, and there’s someone alive inside and I’m about, I hope, to witness this survivor's rescue. My legs are weak.
The Mexican man starts to remove large chunks of rubble from the hole that seems to have the most immediate access. Meanwhile, I send the girl who found me back to the Citibank site with my driver to see if she can get more Mexican rescuers to help.
They have two dogs with them, and although we all insist that this isn’t a wild-goose chase, they basically order the Mexican to stand down. It’s too dangerous, they tell him, to continue doing what he’s doing without bracing another section of the house. They send in their dogs to do the initial search.
The dog enters the site where part of the third-floor bedroom is visible. A Haitian, Max, who has been standing with us on the roof, says that is his bed. He was lying on it with his wife when the earthquake started. There is a drawer from a chest of drawers visible, one on the top of the bed, a baby crib, school notebooks, a water pump.
I feel Max’s impatience, watching the dogs, holding my breath.
The dog will determine for the rescue team whether the tap – and the voice that we heard – are legitimate. It seems like a waste of valuable time but I know these guys are professional, that their safety is first, and so along with everyone else, I just wait.
There are about a dozen guys wearing the blue T-shirts that say Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Team. They’ve been here since Thursday, rescued 15 people so far. Just before getting to this site, one of them tells me they just rescued a 3-year-old. A few of them speak Creole. Two of them look vaguely familiar, I can't quite place the faces.
The first dog comes back and the second dog goes down. The Mexican is upset, tries to talk to the Americans, but they aren’t interested.
I’m biting my tongue. I know they have protocol, but I feel the same angst I felt yesterday when I had the 2-month old on my lap and I was afraid that every minute I spent in the car trying to get her to the hospital was a minute too long.