By Art Harris, The Bald Truth, www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
There’s nothing she can do for close friend Nathalie Michel, 33, a bank teller burned to death in the killer earthquake when her crumbled office building caught fire in downtown Port au Prince six days ago.
But veteran translator Viviane Boulos (French, Creole, English), an old friend of mine who is homebound with a broken leg in a suburb called Petion-Ville just outside the capital, is fielding e mails from friends and neighbors on the prowl for survivors, and begging me, begging me, to direct rescuers to the young mother of a newborn locals are telling her was still trapped and fighting to stay alive Tuesday beneath the collapsed Carribean Market on Delmas Road â€”an astounding seven days after the earthquake destroyed her city.
The missing mother is Paola Handal, says Viviane, who was buying food for her baby when the killer quake hit. “I’m getting e mails from witnesses who are telling me she’s alive,” says Viviane. “I was so upset when I heard rescuers were calling off the searches yesterday because they said no one could live this long, but people ARE still alive, and still need help.
In a new detail, Viviane tells The Bald Truth Paola’s relatives she knows were receiving text messages from a man claiming to be trapped beneath the pancaked grocery near Paola and that she was still alive. Then his texts suddenly stopped, though it’s unclear when. “The guy was also under the debris when he was texting her relatives,” Viviane added in an e mail I just received. “By now, he must have run out of juice.”
I’ve asked her to find name and contact numbers and e mails for the unidentified man if possible, and Handal’s parents. It’s unclear if they were the same parents CNN’s Ivan Watson, doing brilliant reporting from outside the grocery for days, said had come by in search of an unnamed daughter on Tuesday. Still, no one has reported survivors pulled out of the Carribean grocery for days, and rescuers reportedly fear odds are slim anyone remains alive there.
At the same time I received Viviane’s information, CNN’s heroic anchor Anderson Cooper, was fueling such unlikely reports with credence by what locals were calling a miracle, and rescuers said broke the standard 72 hour survivor window: a woman was pulled out alive — and live — on the 24 hour news network from beneath the destroyed National Cathedral in downtown Port au Prince, as cameras zoomed on an old woman covered in gray dust on a makeshift plywood stretcher, moving, waving her arms, very much alive! Through a translator, she said her faith in God had kept her alive. Now the question remains if a U.S. military evacuation to a nearby hospital can keep her alive.
For Paola Handal, the clock of hope is still ticking, insists Viviane. “We know (she) was at the market when the earthquake hit,” says Boulos. “Please try to get someone to help her. I just got an e mail from a man nearby who says she’s alive. If they don’t get her quickly, she’ll suffocate under the rubble. All I can do is pray for her.”
I reassure her we’ll send the information to everyone we know on the ground, fellow journalists, the military, the U.S. embassy, and pray one of the 43 international rescue teams on the ground gets the word amid the chaos and devastation, or that the 82nd Airborne hits the area soon. CNN tells me Watson hasn’t reported any survivors at the grocery in several days, and offers to consider any fresh information from Boulos.
“We are doing whatever we can to help our neighbors,” says Viviane, a native Haitian who moved home from Miami in 1987 when her father died to be close to family and works as a translator for visiting conventions and international officials. “We have friends and neighbors sleeping in our backyard. We are running out of food and water and haven’t seen any military or rescue teams yet, but we know they are here. We are grateful, but wish they could do more faster.”
Nearby, she also hears there are still survivors at the once chic Montana Hotel, where she says owner and old friend, Nadine Cardozo, was pulled out alive. But she also hears from friends that other towns nearby have suffered vast destruction, like LÃ©ogÃ¢ne, Petit-GoÃ¢ve, Miragoane, with little or no outside help reported, information we are unable to independently confirm.
She says the horror has brought her neighborhood, rich and poor, together as one, and sends me a photo of a nearby church, reduced to rubble, save a sculpture of Jesus on the Cross, standing upright and undamaged. “It makes you believe in miracles,” she says.
So her friends and neighbors are reaching out to each other, she says, as the living feel “blessed” to be alive and, along with it, a responsibility to help others.
“I have only praise for the poor folks in my neighborhood,” writes Viviane.
“They have stood watch all night, every night, since this tragedy to keep our area safe from looters and people disposing of cadavers. Prayer vigils are held every night throughout the night, I stay stuck with my broken leg and join them in prayer.
“I’m amazed, with every tremor a neighbor rushes in to carry me out of harm’s way. Things may be different in other neighborhoods, but here, the solidarity is incredible, all social differences vanished. We are crying for many of our friends who were not as blessed and doing our best to help with whatever we have. Bless you.”