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Jan 23, 2010

A Week After Earthquake, 15-Day-Old Baby Found Alive

Surprise Survivor Is Just One of the Delayed Rescue Tales that Have Become Hallmarks of Haiti's Earthquake.

JACMEL, Haiti – Rescue teams found a 15-day-old baby alive in a crumbled house here Tuesday, after she'd spent nearly half her life without food or water amid the ruins of last week's earthquake.

A search and rescue team was demolishing the remains of the home of the mother, Michelene Joassaint, believing that there was no chance that her baby Elisabeth, eight days old when the quake struck on Jan. 12, could possibly be alive.

The rescue team found the baby in the same bed where she was napping when the earthquake struck. The bed had fallen to the ground floor, but the baby was not even injured.

The cousin of the 15-day-old Haitian baby who was found alive in a crumbled house Tuesday comments on her medical care.

"It was the mercy of God," said Ms. Joassaint, 22 years old, breastfeeding her daughter on a makeshift hospital bed next to the heavily damaged city hospital Tuesday evening. Ms. Joassaint was staying in a homeless camp set up on a soccer field when she learned the news. "I cried and then ran to the baby," she said.

Ms. Joassaint said that just before the quake she had fed Elisabeth on the second floor of her home and then went downstairs for a moment. When she felt the tremor begin she tried to run back upstairs for Elisabeth, she said, but the walls began to crumble. She had no choice but to turn and run out, she said.

"This wasn't the way Jesus wanted the baby to die," said Michelet Joassaint, the baby's grandfather, a 47-year-old fisherman who was at sea at the time of the earthquake. "Everybody knew the baby was dead, except the Lord."

More than 90 people have been pulled alive from the rubble by international rescue teams, according to U.N. figures. That figure doesn't include those saved by ordinary Haitians digging with their shovels, sticks and bare hands.

Hours after the baby's rescue, an international crew of rescue teams worked feverishly in the capital into the night on Tuesday to try to save a young woman called Natalie, entombed in the collapsed remains of a market but still alive.

WSJ's Charles Forelle reports from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the latest on the relief efforts there. He says there is little evidence of aid to Haiti's newly homeless.

Rescuers passed a remote camera into the position where the woman was trapped. She reached for it. "That means she has enough power to grab. That's a good thing," said Dundare Sahin of Akut, a Turkish rescue service.

Minutes later, rescue workers were able to speak with Natalie. "She said she was fine," said Christian Mascaro of the French rescue group Rescuers Without Borders.

Some Haiti survivors may have lasted longer than is usual for several reasons, including mild weather. And construction materials used in Haiti's buildings may have helped: collapsed pre-pressed concrete slabs that tend to leave gaps when they crash down.

A family, including a young boy with a machete, guarded their store in front of a church in downtown Port-au-Prince Tuesday.

"It crushes some some people horribly, but it can leave gaps for people to survive miraculously," Sir John said.

While the story of the baby's survival was particularly dramatic, it echoes a very similar tale from the 1985 earthquake that hit Mexico City. There, some 13 babies were rescued alive from the collapsed maternity ward of a hospital, trapped over a period of one to nearly nine days. They were called "the miracle babies" and captured the world's attention.

In the years since, Mexican newspapers have written stories to update the lives of the survivors as they have grown into young adults.

There was another dramatic rescue a day earlier on Monday, that of a woman who had been buried in her bed for six days under the rubble of her two-story home.

The woman rescued from her bed "was lying face down on the mattress with the first-floor ceiling pressing her down," said Brian Miura, an emergency room physician from Torrance, Calif., who was part of the Los Angeles Country team that saved the woman.

The rescuers used listening devices and dogs to triangulate her location. Then they cut a hole through the roof and, beneath that, the collapsed walls. Then they reached through a 2 1/2-foot gap and cut away the base of the bed to extract her.

Dr. Miura described the woman as "hysterical" when she emerged. The rescuers pumped her full of fluids and sent her to a Brazilian hospital. Dr. Miura expected her to survive the ordeal.

The crew had pulled two sisters out of a different room of the same house on Sunday.

After Monday's remarkable rescue, U.S. and other rescue teams continued search operations on Tuesday, despite what they admitted were ever-slimmer chances of finding survivors. "The window is shutting relatively quickly," said Mark Stone, a spokesman for a search-and-rescue team from Fairfax, Va. Still, "there might be a needle in the haystack, so don't give up," Rex Strickland, operations chief for the Fairfax team, told his 72-member crew Tuesday morning.

by Michael M. Phillips

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