French rescuers pull girl from quake debris
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - January 28, 2010 -- A French search team that wouldn't go home pulled off another "miracle" rescue in Port-au-Prince, lifting a 17-year-old girl alive from beneath this cityscape of rubble. Above ground, hundreds of thousands of other survivors hoped for a breakthrough of another kind - in delivering badly needed food aid.
Key players in the Haiti earthquake relief effort, in what may have been a pivotal meeting, decided to better coordinate by dividing up the city among themselves for handing out food.
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 is 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.
Authorities say it is rare for anyone to survive more than 72 hours without water, let alone more than two weeks. But young 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.
Rescuer Claude 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.
"I don't think she could have survived even a few more hours," Fuilla said.
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. A neighbor said he believed she was rescued from the house's shower room, where she might have had access to water.
She was extremely dehydrated and weak, with very low blood pressure. She was rushed to a French military field hospital and then the French military hospital ship Sirroco.
France's ambassador to Haiti, Didier le Bret, praised the "stubbornness" of the French rescue squad.
"They should not have been working anymore because, officially, the rescue phase is over," he said. "But they felt that some lives still are to be saved, so we did not say they should leave the country."
At least 135 people buried in rubble have been rescued by search teams since the quake, most in the immediate aftermath.
On food aid, the U.N. World Food Program, which says it has reached 450,000 people, 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.
Food remains scarce for many of the neediest survivors despite the efforts of the United Nations, the U.S. military and dozens of international aid groups. 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 food agency said 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.
Associated Press writers Michelle Faul, Carolina Correa and Gregory Bull in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.
haiti, haitian earthquake, national/world
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