Page last updated at 22:58 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

UK rescuers continue search for Haiti quake survivors

By David Loyn
BBC News, Haiti

The British rescuers searching for signs of life in the rubble of Port-au-Prince

The BBC's David Loyn has met UK rescuers in Haiti as they search for survivors following the devastating earthquake that hit the country.

Men with the physique of rugby players are as agile as ballet dancers when it comes to crawling through narrow holes in ruined buildings; and gentle too when it comes to carrying survivors out through unlikely tunnels that they dig through the rubble, sometimes with their bare hands.

Rudy Parkes, two years off retirement, says that the Haiti earthquake was the worst he has seen in more than 20 years of responding to international disasters.

But, along with the worst, came the best moment in all that time in the rescue of two-year old Mia, found in a space in the basement of a nursery school on Friday night.

"She was under that rubble when we left England in the snow," he said, emotional as he remembered the moment Mia was pulled out unhurt and reunited with her mother Cormelle.

Because of a logistical bottleneck at Port-au-Prince airport, the heavy equipment that the fire officers rely on was not available until after Mia was pulled out, so they had to improvise with a locally-bought shovel and a pickaxe to force their way through the rubble to the void where she was sitting.

They might have water or food - there is always a chance
Rudy Parkes

The following day, the fourth since the earthquake, the fire officers set out more in hope than expectation, as the statistical brutality was that most of those who survived the initial earthquake would now have died through lack of water, food, air or willpower.

But the rescuers, who are all volunteers with the expenses of their work here paid for by the UK Department for International Development, continued their work anyway.

Rudy Parkes saw the statistics as defeatism.

"They might have water or food. There is always a chance," he said as the teams, including two dogs, Holly and Echo, were called to site after site where people said there had been voices since the earthquake.

Harsh decision

But each time they found no sign of life.

The decision to leave and move on was a harsh one for families who still hoped beyond hope.

In other places people called desperately to the fire officers for people to come and take away bodies as the smell of death and threat of disease have become intolerable.

But on Saturday afternoon, another British team, from the charity Action UK, were called to a house where a woman was calling out.

Fire officers joined them and soon made contact with the woman.

When they had dug in through the side of her house, working from the top of a pile of rubble, pictures from a camera sent down the tunnel showed that she was lying flat on her back in a space not much deeper than herself, with her toes touching the roof.

Rescuers with Mia

A BBC cameraman at the scene, Rob Magee, who speaks fluent French, was called on to help translate and helped to console the woman, Sonia Delmas, 39, as fire officers inched closer towards her.

Her daughter was lying dead beside her, but Sonia was pulled out alive and in one piece, crying out thanks to Jesus as she blinked in the open air after almost 100 hours confined with little hope of rescue.

There is enormous emotion among all those at the scene of a successful rescue. It rises up, catching some unawares, and few of these tough men would would deny that a tear comes to their eyes at some point.

When I asked Martin Fisher, from the Greater Manchester Service, why he does this work, hazardous and uncomfortable as it is, he said: "Because it makes me feel better".

And he spoke for many in that.

This has been the largest ever international response to a disaster, with 1,700 rescue workers from more than 40 countries involved.

They have an extraordinary skill in being able to go deep into damaged buildings and save lives, and they do it in the interests of a common humanity.

Among 100,000 dead, the 50 or so survivors that have been pulled out by the international rescue teams are a sign of hope for Haiti.

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