Rescues Offer Hope Amid Haiti’s Heartbreak

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January 18, 2010 10:06 a.m. EST – Story from CNN.com

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — The dead lie in piles on street corners, covered by flimsy pieces of cardboard boxes. The living crowd tent cities, as many as 20,000 awaiting food, water and medicine.

Amid the heartbreak that permeates the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince rescue crews continued to offer glimmers of hope as they combed through mounds of concrete and pulled more people out alive.

Rescue crews plan to look for more survivors in the rubble Monday, while aid agencies step up their efforts to tend to those above ground.

By Sunday, more than 60 people had been rescued, including five who were freed from the rubble of a grocery store after a 24-hour effort to reach them.

The rescues defy the odds. Disaster experts consider the first 72 hours after an earthquake as the most critical — a period beyond which the chances of finding survivors diminish significantly. That passed Friday afternoon.

Officials still do not know how many perished in Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake. Estimates of deaths range from 100,000 to 150,000 in Port-au-Prince alone.

Residents wedge pieces of orange peel inside the tip of their nostrils to mask the smell of death. Cars and motorbikes carefully drive around the corpses that clutter the streets.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the focus this week will be on long-term recovery and reconstruction.

Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, will meet with local officials Monday to discuss how best to proceed with recovery operations.

Slowly, aid has begun to reach some of those who need it most. On Saturday, a World Food Program convoy reached Léogâne, about 11 miles (18 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince and close to where the earthquake was centered. Nearly every building there had collapsed, and tens of thousands of people are thought to have been killed, the agency said.

The Port-au-Prince airport, being run by the U.S. military, was operating at maximum capacity 24 hours a day as planes arrived with nonperishables and hospital supplies. Inevitable bottlenecks at the airport have hindered some aid delivery.

Doctors Without Borders said Sunday that one of its cargo planes — carrying an inflatable surgical hospital — was blocked from landing the day before and rerouted to neighboring Dominican Republic.

On Monday, the massive U.S. naval hospital ship Comfort was still three days from reaching the country. Doctors aboard specialize in trauma.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching images to emerge from the devastated island-nation are the long lines of the wailing wounded who wait for hours — sometimes days — outside the few clinics still standing.

Inside, medics and medicine are in short supply.

Doctors use bandages and wooden boards to keep broken bones stable. They hang bags of intravenous fluids from trees for patients to make room in hospital beds for more serious cases.

Throughout the day, pickups pull up with blue tarps covering a pyramid of bodies.

Dr. Jennifer Furin, who is tending to about 300 patients at a makeshift hospital at a U.N. compound near Port-au-Prince’s airport, warned that one-third of them will die without immediate surgery.

Dutch and U.S. officials have cleared the way for scores of Haitian orphans set for adoption to leave Haiti, cutting through paperwork. The move is expected to ease the strain on a country that is home to about 380,000 orphans, a number that has climbed since the quake.

Amid such despair, the news of miraculous rescues from collapsed buildings offered respite.

Rescue workers crawled through spaces so tight that they could take only half a breath at times.

Among the five people rescued from the ruins of the Caribbean Supermarket on Sunday night was a Creole-speaking man who came out first. He picked his head up off the stretcher carried by his rescuers and flashed a thumbs-up sign. He said he had been eating peanut butter and jelly from the store to survive.

A 50-year-old American woman also was among the trapped. Capt. Joe Zahralban of the Florida search team that assisted with the rescue said he had the opportunity to tell the woman’s sister that she was alive.

“She dropped to her knees and thanked us,” he said.

Elsewhere, a U.N. search and rescue team freed one of its own Sunday from the collapsed mission headquarters. At least 37 U.N. staff members have been confirmed dead.

In Elmont, New York, the family of Myrtha Manigat prayed. They had been told that she and her two children had died after the earth shook and swallowed the home they were in.

But then, while watching CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Friday night, the family caught a glimpse of a photo showing a frail woman being fed with a spoon.

It was Manigat. Doctors had to amputate her leg to save her life.

Speaking to her relatives Sunday, Manigat asked them to stay strong.

“All I need you to do for me is to pray. Pray because there are so many other people that didn’t make it,” her cousin, Talma Joseph, recalled her saying.

“She told me, ‘Talma, crying’s not going to do anything. Just have faith and strength that, you know, everything will be OK.’ “

CNN’s Ivan Watson, Anderson Cooper, Susan Candiotti, Rich Phillips, Saeed Ahmed, Mary Lucas, Karl Penhaul, Arthur Brice, Elise Labott, Laurie Ure, Greg Clary, Dugal McConnell, Josh Levs, Melissa Gray, Richard Greene, Sanjay Gupta, Danielle Dellorto, Elizabeth Cohen and Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.

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