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At a glance: Haiti

Rescued by a neighbour, a young Haitian earthquake survivor dreams of normalcy

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Nybo
Rachel Lunique, 17, points to the rubble under which she was buried for two days following January’s earthquake in Haiti. She was rescued by a neighbour.

By Thomas Nybo

More than two months after the earthquake in Haiti, over three-quarters of the 1.2 million people in need of emergency shelter there have received shelter materials, and plans are in the works to do more as the storm season approaches. But as the following story demonstrates, much work remains to be done.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 29 March 2010 – When the earth began to shake on 12 January 12, Rachel Lunique, 17, sprinted out the door of her family's second-floor apartment. Rachel was just a few steps from the safety of the street, when she heard the desperate cries of the woman in the apartment next to hers.

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Instinctively, Rachel turned and ran back into the building, knowing the woman and her infant child needed help. Seconds later, a concrete wall collapsed, knocking Rachel unconscious and pinning her right arm beneath hundreds of pounds of concrete.

"I was trapped there for two days," she says, pointing to an improbably tiny space enveloped by twisted steel support rods and broken concrete blocks. "I started to pray, and after I prayed, I cried. And I knew God was going to take me out of there."

Breaking through the rubble

It would be 48 hours before another neighbour – a tall, thin man named Lucas Wilson – heard Rachel's muffled cries. Using nothing but his hands and a hammer, Mr. Wilson painstakingly broke through the rubble, dug a tunnel and freed Rachel. He would free three other neighbours in the same fashion.

As Rachel tells her story, Mr. Wilson approaches and stands atop the rubble of what was once her family home. Weeks after the earthquake, he still carries a battered aluminium hammer and a rusty saw.

When asked about the fate of Rachel's neighbour, the woman who cried for help, Mr. Wilson pauses and points to a human skull lying deep in the crevasse of two fallen walls. She died cradling her infant child.

Life in a camp

Today, Rachel is living in a small, makeshift shelter in Champ de la Paix, one of hundreds of settlements for the displaced that have sprung up in and around the capital. The walls are made of old bed sheets and a tablecloth, with a plastic sheet stretched across the roof to keep out the rain. She shares the space with her family, none of whom – besides Rachel – were injured in the quake. A plastic bucket for water and a small pile of clothes are her only belongings.

"There are seven of us living in this tent," she says. "It's very difficult because when the rain comes, we get wet. And when the sun is up, it is very hot inside. And it is difficult for us to find food."

Rachel still wears a bandage on her injured hand, which has not regained mobility.

"One thing I can do is gather water every day," she says, demonstrating how she can carry a bucket with her good hand. "I don't have many regular activities because of my crushed hand."

Hope for a return to normalcy

Rachel spends most of her days thinking about life before the earthquake, and what it will take for Haiti to return to a semblance of normality.

"It's very important for young people to participate in Haiti's rebuilding because the way the country is right now, it is not good," she says.

Rachel is desperate to return to school. Her injury has motivated her to become a doctor, and she knows the path is long and difficult.

"I wish everybody could go back to school because without school, you can't do anything," she says.




3 March 2010: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on a young woman who was buried for two days following Haiti’s 12 January earthquake.
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