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.
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What is the dog doing? She appears to be anxious, running in and out of openings, pawing as if she wants to go right through the cement wall. I think that’s what the Mexican wants to do, too. And the rest of us, for that matter.Skip 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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Finally, the dog barks. That’s it. Confirmation.
The guys from Miami swing into action. Some are up high on a another roof, some are down low, some are in the back of the house. They each seem to have a job. The dog handlers seem pleased – turns out it’s Vegas’s first rescue, and her handler, Frank Garcia, is delighted with her performance.
The dogs are taught to bark when they come upon a live body that’s trapped. Without that bark, the team won’t go in. Too many people, explains another dog handler, Gregory Strickland, desperate to find loved ones, swear that they hear family members days later just because they don’t want to give up hope. His dog, Indy, has been doing this for 19 months.
When I hear another crew member call the Creole speaker “Doctor,” I realize that the first face I can’t place is Rudy Moise, a well-known Haitian-American doctor and activist in Miami, a man I’ve met many times before. The other man is Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek. He’d been so moved by what the rescue team was doing that he jumped on a plane in order to witness what was going on and bring whatever resources he could.
The rescue team works slowly. People on the roof tell us there are three people trapped: a 14-year-old girl, Frangina; 7-year-old Nazer, and 5-year-old Kevin. They’re not related. They were all living in the house, and watching TV at the time of the quake.
Nazer’s mother is on the street outside the house with 3-year-old Ricky, who she was able to grab when the house fell. Nazer ran back inside.
Kevin’s parents are in the States.
The rescue team works slowly, trying various strategies to get close to where they think the three are trapped. Finally, they are close enough to get a camera in and see movements from a girl’s hand.
Hearing that breathes a new life into the crowd. This is not a voyeur’s trip. It’s the real thing, as close as I have ever gotten, or want to get, to a life-or-death rescue. The scene is surreal. They now have the lights focused on the house, the generator is powering the tools, and the energize crowd suddenly erupts with a cheer.
Shortly before 10:00 p.m., they are ready to go in. Nearly six hours have passed since I arrived, and I barely notice.
Nazer, the 7-year old, comes out first. It’s dramatic. They have him on an improvised stretcher. I stay out of the way as a whole fleet of people attend to him. When I finally get a look, I can see he’s bone thin, skeletal like. But smiling. He points to his tooth, says he cracked it, as though that was the worst thing that happened. He even smiles.
But not so with Frangina, the teenager. She learns, as she’s pulled out, that little Kevin has died. She’s wailing, saying over and over again that she couldn’t see him.
She must have been trapped in such a way that he was behind her and that she was only talking to Nazer all along, not Kevin, too. Her pain pierces me. She’s so distraught that it’s hard to feel complete joy at her release.
Out of respect for Kevin and his family, the rescue team doesn’t extract his body while the crowd is on the roof. We wait for the rescuers to take Frangina and Nazer to the vehicles below before we go down ourselves. Frangina has grown quiet.
In contrast Nazer smiles, gives a thumbs up, and the vehicles drive away.