Survivor found as cleric is mourned

Man lived 11 days under shop debris

By Vivian Sequera and Ben Fox
Associated Press / January 24, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - As the UN said the Haitian government had declared an end to searches for living people trapped in the earthquake rubble, yet another survivor was saved yesterday.

Rescuers said they reached Wismond Exantus by digging a narrow tunnel through the wreckage of a hotel grocery store where he was buried for 11 days.

Also yesterday, hundreds gathered for the funeral of the archbishop of Haiti’s stricken capital, a rare, formal ceremony that captured the collective mourning of a shattered nation where mass graves hold many of the dead.

While the two-hour ceremony was held for Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot and vicar Charles Benoit, who also perished in the Jan. 12 earthquake, people in the crowd of about 2,000 wept for personal losses as well.

“We feel like we have lost everything. Our child, our country, our friend,’’ said Junior Sant Juste, a 30-year-old father whose 3-year-old daughter died when his home collapsed.

An estimated 200,000 people were killed by the quake, according to Haitian government figures cited by the European Commission.

Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti’s culture and communications minister, said yesterday that about 150,000 bodies from the streets had been collected and buried in the past 11 days, not including family burials, The New York Times reported.

Exantus, who is in his 20s, was placed on a stretcher and given intravenous fluids as onlookers cheered. He later said he survived by diving under a desk during the quake and consuming cola, beer, and cookies in the cramped space.

“I would eat anything I found,’’ he said. “After the quake I didn’t know when it was day and when it was night.’’

“I was hungry, but every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive,’’ Exantus said from his hospital bed. “It was God who was tucking me away in his arms. It gave me strength.’’

One of his brothers, Jean Elit Jean Pierre, said Exantus worked as a cashier in the grocery store on the ground floor of the Hotel Napoli. The brothers persuaded rescuers to save Exantus, who has a different name because he had it changed.

Earlier yesterday, the United Nations announced the Haitian government had declared an end to rescue operations. Still, dozens of international teams continued to pick through rubble of the quake. Authorities have stopped short of explicitly directing all teams to halt rescue efforts. But UN relief workers said the shift in focus is critical to care for the thousands living in squalid, makeshift camps that lack sanitation.

While deliveries of food, medicine, and water have ticked up after initial logjams, the need continues to be overwhelming and doctors fear outbreaks of disease in the camps.

“It doesn’t mean the government will order them to stop. In case there is the slightest sign of life, they will act,’’ UN spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

All told, some 132 people have been pulled alive from beneath collapsed buildings by international search and rescue teams, she said. Experts say the chance of saving trapped people begins diminishing after 72 hours.

One mother still missing her children said it’s too soon to give up.

“Maybe there’s a chance they’re still alive,’’ said Nicole Abraham, 33, wiping away tears as she spoke of hearing the cries of her children - ages 4, 6, and 15 - for the first two days after the quake.