72 hours. That is the window of time most experts give for finding survivors of a disaster. Yesterday a 24-year old Haitian man was pulled alive from a pile of rubble, 11 days after the powerful quake struck, and hours after Haitian officials declared the rescue operation officially over.
I was out with my crew chasing another story when we saw a news alert that a man was alive inside of a collapsed hotel. We immediately re-routed ourselves and started looking for the location. A few minutes later our desk in Port-au-Prince e-mailed me, asking if we could check out the report. “We’re already on our way”, I replied.
It took a little longer than planned. For one thing, the news alert listed the name of the hotel wrong, so we started out on a wild goose chase looking for a place that didn’t exist. But once we got the name right we got there pretty quickly. A large crowd had gathered in front of a massive pile of rubble that used to be a hotel. A few French rescue workers stood on the pile. If we hadn’t known something was happening there we never would have guessed it. Everyone was so calm.
WATCH NIGHTLY NEWS’ REPORT OF THE RESCUE
The big moment was equally tranquil. With no fanfare and no announcement the rescue workers started carrying something down the pile. I saw the hanging IV bag before I saw an actual person. A crush of reporters, photographers and cameramen surrounded the stretcher. One of the rescue workers pulled me on top of a barrier so that I could get a better view. And that’s when I saw him. A young man in a t-shirt and jeans, looking virtually unharmed, smiling.
Right away a woman started yelling “We’re the family, let us through, let us through.” Two men – presumably the survivor’s brothers – hopped into the back of the ambulance when he was loaded on. The doors shut and the ambulance drove away. The entire thing took about three minutes. But it was 11-days coming for the young man.
I got back to the bureau feeling genuinely happy. Just full of joy. In the midst of so much widespread despair and destruction, my heart swelled at the sight of that young man, his nightmare over, his family relieved. I thought of his smile, and instantly, one spread across my face as well.