Rescue teams pull at least 10 from hotel

Saturday, January 16, 2010; A09

For three days, a 60-year-old U.S. citizen was trapped beneath the collapsed floors of the Hotel Montana in PĂ©tionville, his legs pinned by fallen concrete. He was conscious and often spoke. He shared a space the size of a small closet -- or a large coffin -- with a dead man.

The search and rescue team from Fairfax County finally pulled him from his tomb late Friday, but it was not easy. Working with a French surgeon and a French rescue crew, the team first had to amputate one of the man's legs at the knee. Then they had to amputate the other above the ankle.

The rescued U.S. citizen, whose name was not released, was one of at least 10 people that the French and Fairfax teams pulled from the hotel.

Before its collapse, the Hotel Montana was the most popular hotel in the area, a de facto headquarters for U.N. officials, diplomats, well-to-do Haitians and foreign correspondents. Now it is filling with the smell of decomposition and rot. Dozens of people, or perhaps many more, are still buried in the rubble and probably dead.

"Because the building is so big, it is possible that there are others still waiting for us," said Cmdr. Samuel Bernes of the French Civil Protection Service. "But we have not heard them and the dogs have not smelled them. But we will stay a little longer and try as best we can."

-- William Booth

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