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Saving Lives At A Shattered Haitian Hotel

At the time this story was reported, Nadine Cardoza-Reidl was assumed dead, after initial hope that she had survived. Two days later, she was pulled ALIVE from the rubble, dehydrated but otherwise healthy. The story that follows reflects what was known at the time.

More than 2 1/2 days after the earthquake destroyed the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, members of a search-and-rescue team from Virginia carried American Dan Wooley out of the wreckage.

Wooley was one of seven people pulled out of the flattened Montana -- once one of the nicest hotels in the Haitian capital -- by elite rescue teams from France, Spain and the United States working overnight and into Friday morning.


Before getting Wooley out, the rescue team from Virginia's Fairfax County had plucked Haitian Lucson Mondesir from the massive pile of concrete.

Wooley and Mondesir had been trapped side by side in adjacent elevator cars. In the darkness, they talked to and encouraged each other until the rescue teams arrived.

When Wooley emerged, Mondesir -- in his dust-covered bellhop uniform -- was standing outside to greet him. And for the first time, they could see each other.

"It's so good to meet you," Wooley told Mondesir.

The two had been deep in the wreckage at the bottom of two elevator shafts that had flipped on their sides. Mondesir said the darkness was terrifying and that he had started to hallucinate. He said he and Wooley encouraged each other throughout the ordeal.


Wooley, who had injured his leg, was whisked away to a clinic. But Mondesir walked around, posing for photos with the rescue workers and talking to the press. He said he and Wooley always believed they would be saved.

The rescue crews were working throughout the night to try to reach at least eight people believed to be alive in the remains of the hotel.

Reinhard Riedl said his wife, Hotel Montana co-owner Nadine Cardoza-Reidl, was one of the people trapped in the rubble. Riedl stood in front of a huge, jutting slab of concrete that used to be the hotel roof. And he waited.

"My wife is still alive. It was very uncertain this morning. And yesterday, all along, they didn't know where she is, actually. So, right now I feel relieved, and everything else is secondary," Riedl said.

The search-and-rescue crews had to prop up parts of the wreckage to reach the pockets where people were still alive.

Under klieg lights, the team members burrowed in and out of the pile of concrete chunks.

"It's quite amazing to go in through the dark and see somebody's hand poke out. That's always a strange sight to see," said Sam Gray, a firefighter from Fairfax County, Va.

Gray said the team had been working for three days straight and had managed to pull three people out alive. But he said it's hard to savor these victories because there is so much destruction and death around them -- even inside the wreckage.

"There'll be bodies right next to the people [who] are alive -- right next to, laying on top of -- and you'll have one alive, one not alive. And of course, that has a pretty big impact," he said.

All across the Haitian capital, buildings have collapsed -- some completely, others partially. An unknown number of people remain trapped or pinned alive in the debris.

Search-and-rescue crews are trying to extract a group of people from inside a supermarket. After the quake, they had made calls from their cell phones for help.

With so many buildings collapsed and so many people missing, it's possible that thousands survived the quake but were trapped somewhere in the debris.

Riedl gave up his vigil for his wife Friday. He had gotten word that despite his initial optimism, she had apparently died in the collapse and her body was still inside the hotel. Editor's Note: But two days later, Nadine Cardoza-Reidl was pulled alive from the rubble.)

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