- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A 17-year-old girl pulled from the rubble in a stunning rescue 15 days after the earthquake was in stable condition Thursday, able to eat yogurt and mashed vegetables to the surprise of doctors, who said her survival was medically inexplicable.

Hundreds of thousands of other survivors hoped for a breakthrough of another kind — the delivery of badly needed food aid.

Key players in the Haiti earthquake relief effort, in what may prove to be a pivotal meeting Wednesday, decided to better coordinate by dividing up the shattered capital, giving each responsibility for handing out food in certain areas.

Food distribution thus far has often been marked by poor coordination, vast gaps in coverage, and desperate, unruly lines of needy people in which young men at times shoved aside the women and weak and took their food.

“These things should be done in a systematic way, not a random way,” Dr. Eddy Delalue, who runs a Haitian relief group, Operation Hope, said Wednesday of the emergency food program. “It’s survival of the fittest: The strongest guy gets it.”

Wednesday’s rescue of teenager Darlene Etienne from a collapsed home near St. Gerard University, 15 days after Haiti’s great quake killed an estimated 200,000 people, was the first such recovery since Saturday, when French rescuers extricated a man from the ruins of a hotel grocery store. A man pulled Tuesday from the rubble of a downtown store said he had been trapped during an aftershock, not in the original Jan. 12 quake.

Etienne is stable, and has been drinking water and eating yogurt and mashed vegetables, said Dr. Evelyne Lambert, who has been treating the girl on the French Navy hospital ship Sirocco, anchored off shore from Port-au-Prince.

Lambert said that Etienne has a 90 percent chance of survival.

“We cannot really explain this because that’s just (against) biological facts,” Lambert told a news conference. “We are very surprised by the fact that she’s alive. … She’s saying that she has been under the ground since the very beginning on the 12th of January so it may have really happened — but we cannot explain that.”

Authorities say it is rare for anyone to survive more than 72 hours without water, let alone more than two weeks. But Etienne may have had some access to water from a bathroom of the wrecked house, and rescuers said she mumbled something about having a little Coca-Cola with her in the rubble.

Her family said Etienne had just begun studies at St. Gerard when the disaster struck, trapping dozens of students and staff in the rubble of school buildings, hostels and nearby homes. “We thought she was dead,” said cousin Jocelyn A. St. Jules.

Then — a half-month after the earthquake — neighbors heard a voice weakly calling from the rubble of a private home down the road from the destroyed university. They called authorities, who brought in the French civil response team.

Fuilla walked along the dangerously crumbled roof, heard her voice and saw a little bit of dust-covered black hair in the rubble. Clearing away some debris, he reached the young woman and saw she was alive — barely.

Digging out a hole big enough to give her oxygen and water, they found she had a very weak pulse. Within 45 minutes they managed to remove her, covered in dust.

“She was in very bad shape,” Fuilla said Thursday. “We had to rehydrate her for 15 minutes” before flying her by helicopter to the Sirocco.

Fuilla said Etienne did not suffer a broken leg, as first reported, but that both legs were trapped under debris. “Both legs are very sore,” he said.

“Now, her condition is stabilized. She ate. She is speaking … She is not very lucid, but she is OK.”

Fuilla said he did not know how many days Etienne would need to remain on the hospital ship for treatment.

France’s ambassador to Haiti, Didier le Bret, praised the French rescue squad for its perseverance.

At least 135 people buried in rubble have been rescued by search teams since the quake, most in the immediate aftermath.

An Israeli team that earned international praise for its rescue efforts in Haiti returned home Thursday with a 5-year-old boy in need of urgent heart surgery. Israeli leaders gathered at Ben-Gurion airport to welcome the team home.

Also Thursday, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution expressing concern about rights abuses in the wake of the quake and urging the government and aid groups to protect children from violence and exploitation.

The U.N. World Food Program, meanwhile, urgently appealed to governments for more cash for Haiti supplies — $800 million to feed 2 million people through December, more than quadruple the $196 million already pledged.

The WFP, partnered with local and international organizations, had delivered 3.6 million food rations to 458,000 people by Tuesday, the United Nations in Haiti said Thursday.

But food remains scarce for many of the neediest survivors. Relief experts said the scale of this disaster and Haiti’s poor infrastructure are presenting unprecedented challenges, but Haitian leaders complain coordination has been poor.

The WFP also noted that rising tensions and security incidents — “including people rushing distribution points for food” — have hampered deliveries.

At some regular distribution points, such as near the Champs de Mars, the central plaza where thousands of homeless are living, daily food handouts have drawn crowds of frantic people. Desperation boiled over earlier this week and Uruguayan peacekeepers retreated as young men rushed forward to grab U.S.-donated bags of beans and rice. A pregnant woman collapsed and was trampled.

Since the relief effort’s first days, however, other problems have also delayed aid — blocked and congested roads, shortages of trucks, a crippled seaport and an overloaded Port-au-Prince airport.

In a bid to improve food distribution, representatives of the U.N., the U.S., the Haitian government and private aid groups met Wednesday to discuss coordination. Afterward, Donal Reilly of Catholic Relief Services said they decided to divide Port-au-Prince into zones, designating a major aid agency to be responsible for delivering food to each sector.

That may bring some hope to the newly homeless of the rubble-strewn Bizoton slum, who say they haven’t gotten food, water or help with shelter in the two weeks since the earthquake.

“If it rains now, that’s it,” Wilson St. Ellis, 50, a father of eight, said Wednesday amid plastic sheets stretched here and there as flimsy shields against the elements.

With the country still barely functioning, Haitian President Rene Preval canceled legislative elections scheduled for next month. The Parliament building partially collapsed in the earthquake, killing one senator, and other candidates also died in the disaster.

Associated Press writers Michelle Faul, Carolina Correa, Ben Fox and Gregory Bull in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.

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