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A miracle on Rue Dessaline

Man rescued from rubble in Port-au-Prince a week after Haiti earthquake

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Along Port-au-Prince's Rue Dessaline on Tuesday morning, something like a miracle occurred.

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A week after the earthquake, Russian search-and-rescue workers pulled a man alive from the rubble of the national telephone company's headquarters, a once-hulking multistory building that has crumbled into chunks of concrete.

Rue Dessaline is the main commercial strip, and lately it has been the focal point for looters seeking food, appliances and anything else of value.

But Tuesday morning it buzzed with something like hope. The rescue started when Logan Abassi, a United Nations photographer surveying the damage downtown, came across the man, Pierre Louis Ronny, while prowling the rubble.

It took him a minute to understand what he was seeing: a man in a sky-blue polo shirt speaking to him from a small pocket in a pile of rubble 10 to 15 feet below him. Only Ronny's left hand was trapped, but that was enough to keep him from escaping.

Abassi climbed down to give him water, then went for help. "I scrambled down the pile and into the street," he said. "Just then, the Russians were coming by, and I flagged them down."

In blue jumpsuits, the Russian team climbed the 50-foot-tall pile and worked quickly to free Ronny, who appeared to be in his early 30s. It took rescuers eight minutes to remove the debris from his hand, then they lifted him into daylight.

His left hand was mangled and rotting after a week of infection. As they carried him in a stretcher, he looked dazed but awake.

Russian medics put an IV in his arm, and a crowd from Rue Dessaline swarmed around the stretcher, turning the pile into arena seating to witness the unbelievable.

A man, alive.

-- Scott Wilson


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