Friday, February 19, 2010

So many trapped

January 19

Imagine if you would...

Eight years old, waking up to a terrifying darkness, dust and grit mingle in your mouth and crunch against your teeth. You feel around and find your body wedged into a small space surrounded on all dimensions by heavy concrete. Sounds around you start to distinguish themselves, far off screaming and crying, closer moans wafting up through the same prison. As the situation clears in your mind, you remember the terrifying shake where your solid safe home crashed down around you, unlike anything you've known or understood in your young years. You start to scream for help, but it just adds and mingles with the rest of the cacophony. Times stretches out in endless dark moments, not knowing how your story will end.

The thoughts of what this young boy must have gone through were running through my mind today as we started our search and rescue mission. We were able to find transportation from the airport this morning in a dump trunk from the UN and traveled immediately out to the Adventist hospital in Port-au-Prince. On arrival, the doctors were rushed off to begin medical help immediately and our group was rushed into preparing right away to go out in the city and search for people still alive under rubble. There were reports that they could hear people calling for help and making noises still.

So we gathered our gear and led by a lady from the hospital, walked out with a large group of Haitian men, eager to be our manpower if needed, and a small surgical team, prepared to do onsite amputations if needed to extricate people. We very quickly created a large mass walking down the concrete strewn streets as more and more people added to our group out of curiosity or hope perhaps at the site of our rescue gear.

The first building was a school with a restaurant underneath. There was a dead body sticking half out of the ground level right in front of us, like a beacon forcing us to look. Some men told us that the lady had been alive after the quake, but while trying to extricate her by tying a rope around her legs and pulling, she died. After looking for openings under the collapsed sections, interviewing neighbors, and taking the dog around, it became clear that we couldn't find any sign of life or possible area to even enter to search. With time ticking away, there was an urgency to go to places where we knew there was life. The lady from the hospital leading us, pleaded for us to go to her own home just down the road where she had talked to her nephew under the rubble just the night before.

As we strode down the road to her house, she began telling the sad tale that has stuck in my mind. After the earthquake, she rushed home to find the entire multistory building collapsed with multiple family members crushed inside. She eventually heard her only son, trapped under big concrete slabs on one side of the house. She kept talking with him until a UN team came to help with heavy machinery. They were lifting one of the concrete slabs off of him when it fell, crushing him instantly beneath it. She buried him and then was able to also hear her little nephew on the other side of the house trapped as well.

Just 8 years old, as the days went by, he told them that there was an injured woman near him also trapped, and a dead body that he could smell. He was kept alive from a broken pipe near him that was dripping water that he drank to keep hydrated. People digging to get to him found the injured woman and she was alive in the hospital being treated. However, they never could get to the boy. When we arrived at the huge rubble pile, there was a Colombian SAR team at work trying to dig in the area the boy was heard. The woman said that her nephew had quit making any noise the day before, but she thought maybe he was just too weak or unconscious.

We sent Janey with her dog, Zeus, around the building. Zeus is trained to distinguish live people from dead. There were some bodies in the back out in the open that animals had been feeding on which threw him off a bit, but soon he was picking his way back over the rubble. In the area with the boy, he kept circling around and then finally laid down which is his signal that there is a dead body. It was sad, but the woman told us that she was so thankful to know that he was no longer suffering down there. It helped give her closure.

We continued throughout the day to trudge around the city and each time the outcome was much the same. No one alive. We got kind of lost for a bit and wherever we went, people would see us with our gear and start calling and pleading for us to come check their buildings where they thought people to be. We walked through little alleys, tried to jump over nasty puddles of water, kicked trash off our shoes...

Finally returned to the hospital well spent as the sun started to set. I think about all the people that maybe are so deeply trapped that we can't hear them or know they're alive down there. It has to be terrifying to consciously know that you are just stuck and going to die there. How would you even know the passing of days? In some sense, I'm almost relieved to not have found anyone alive today. It would have been near impossible in most of those buildings to try and extricate someone without some heavy machinery. And that would be awful to hear someone and not be able to do anything about it, especially with so many people looking on, expecting and hoping.

1 comment:

  1. wow. i have been looking up more and more information about haiti and it's terrors and more and more i want to help do something about it. thank you for being willing to go and help. i know you made a difference.