Against odds, survivors found in Haiti’s rubble

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — She had already spent three days under the rubble, and by the time rescuers pulled the woman from the crumpled home, they told her crying relatives to dump her broken body with the other corpses on the sidewalk.

The family protested: She deserved better.

So a Mexican rescue worker leaned over and felt 19-year-old Josyanne Petidelle’s throat. He looked up at her relatives.

“She’s alive!” he shouted. “She’s alive!”

Against increasingly high odds, search teams and rescue workers around Port-au-Prince found more victims still breathing under the rubble and collapsed concrete on Friday, the fourth day of recovery efforts after a devastating magnitude-7.0 quake that toppled countless homes and buildings.

British firefighters pulled a 2-year-old girl from a fallen building on Friday. Seven people were freed from the Montana Hotel Thursday night and Friday — including four Americans who were up and walking soon after being hauled from the wreckage.

Even an Australian television crew got in on the rescue efforts, digging out a healthy 16-month-old girl from beneath her destroyed hillside home about 68 hours after Tuesday’s earthquake. The crew was about to film an interview when neighbors, and reporters heard the toddler’s cries.

“We had to break some walls,” said David Celestino of the Dominican Republic, who was working with the TV crew. “We had a big hammer, we made a hole and she came out to the light. She basically walked out to me.”

Experts say people trapped by the quake and without access to water will soon die.

“Beyond three or four days without water, they’ll be pretty ill,” said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. “Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb.”

Petidelle was discovered amid the sad resignation and stench of rotting bodies in the downtown neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuille. Her rescue sent shudders of excitement and hope running down the street, where crowds flocked to congratulate themselves on what they viewed as just short of a miracle.

Petidelle’s father, boyfriend and neighbors had dug frantically for three hours after hearing shouts from under a collapsed concrete house.

When they finally reached Petidelle, they found her motionless, with her dress tattered and her skin bruised and caked in white dust. As flies buzzed around her open wounds, she kept her eyes wide open, staring into the empty without a blink.

Most neighbors thought she was dead and shifted their focus to a team of Miami firefighters who’d just arrived nearby. But relatives pulled her onto a battered old mattress and carried the makeshift stretcher up the street to a team of Israeli and Mexican medics, who were for searching for dozens of students believed trapped under a flattened St. Gerard University building.

“We can hear their shouts, but for now we can’t reach them,” said Louis Alva, a Mexican volunteer rescue worker whose small team only worked with shovels and bare hands on Friday.

When the medics saw Petidelle on the mattress, they angrily told her relatives to take her down the road to where other corpses were lying in the dust. But her father and brother begged until one medic wearily leaned over the mattress and pressed two fingers against Petidelle’s throat.

After a second’s surprise, he cried out that the was still alive.

A handful of doctors and nurses flocked to the woman to drip water through her half open mouth and intube her.

Petidelle eventually burst out with a loud screech of pain, which the medics viewed as a good sign.

Dov Maisel, a doctor who’d just arrived from Israel with the aid group Zaka, said she appeared to suffer from multiple internal injuries. Her condition would be assessed at Port-au-Prince’s main hospital, he said.

“But I think she’ll live,” Maisel said, as relatives carried the woman away.

But Petidelle’s ride to the hospital was a truck coated in blood piled with corpses, where she — wounded and covered in dirt — barely stood out.

One Haitian woman was found Friday near the Montana Hotel bar after a 17-hour operation by a search and rescue team from Fairfax County, Va. The first thing she asked for was a glass of wine, said Rebecca Gustafson of the U.S. Agency for International Development disaster assistance team.

Four Americans rescued there Thursday were in good shape, but a fifth American — found Friday — was flown out of Haiti. It wasn’t known how many were still inside in hotel ruins, alive or dead.

“They’re still searching for those who are surviving in this rubble. We’re still in search and rescue mode,” Gustafson said.

The British firefighters that rescued the 2-year-old girl were among six teams searching through schools and areas where there have been reports of survivors, Britain’s Department for International Development said.

“This is a real boost to us all,” said Mike Thomas, chief officer of the team. “This is what we do the job for.”


Borenstein reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Mike Melia in Port-au-Prince and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.