Image: Child rescued from supermarket
Carlos Garcia Rawlins  /  Reuters
A seven-year-old boy is treated after being rescued Sunday from under the rubble of a five-story supermarket in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/17/2010 11:32:57 AM ET 2010-01-17T16:32:57

Rescuers pulled out four people from under the rubble overnight Sunday, including three at a supermarket where at least two more people might have survived in airpockets under five stories of pancaked concrete.

A girl, a boy and a woman were rescued at what had been the five-story supermarket, NBC's Kerry Sanders reported from Port-au-Prince after having watched rescue work there Saturday.

One official coordinating the rescue efforts there told Sanders that a text message believed sent from under the rubble indicated that "more than 60" people were alive there.

Officials later said that number was probably a mistake, but that in any case rescuers had located two more people and were working to free them.

The rescued woman was identified as Mireille Dittmer, a Haitian-born U.S. resident who was on a business trip when the quake hit Tuesday.

U.S. and Turkish urban rescue teams at the site have said they could hear two distinct groups of people deep inside the sandwiched rubble of the Caribe Market.

The supermarket's manager, Samer Tahmoush, estimated that there would have been around 75 to 100 shoppers inside the market in the Delmas neighborhood when the quake hit.

The supermarket, one of the biggest in Port-au-Prince, had completely collapsed on itself, its upper layers falling on those below like a squeezed concertina.

Crushed supermarket trolleys were visible between the sandwiched layers of concrete. Also visible were green and orange supermarket shelving and scattered debris and wares like tea bags, cat food, kitchenware, electronic goods and children's toys, toilet rolls and bathroom sponges.

"We've had to cut through three floors from above, we've been digging through concrete floors, shelving, food, and everything else you would find in a supermarket," said Jose Mendia from the FEMA Florida rescue team.

"It's a really consolidated collapse, what we call a pancake collapse," he added.

"The best time to get somebody back is within 96 hours, but if they have access to food and water, they could survive longer," he said. It was believed that some of those trapped deep inside might be able to reach food and water near them.

Tahmoush said many of his staff had managed to run out fast enough and escape being buried. Many others too had been pulled out quickly from the rubble by rescuers.

But Tahmoush said he knew that a number of his employees — cashiers and bag packers — were buried under the wreckage.

Hotel co-owner rescued
In another rescue, the co-owner of the Hotel Montana was pulled out from under the rubble of what had been a luxury hotel. Nadine Cardoso was dehydrated but otherwise uninjured.

"It's a little miracle," said Reinhard Riedl, her husband. "She's one tough cookie. She is indestructible."

Twelve hours after the rescue effort began, with more than 20 friends and relatives of the prominent community member watching early Sunday, Cardoso was lowered from a hill of debris on a stretcher.

The rescue was bittersweet for Cardoso's sister, because rescuers also told Gerthe Cardoso they had to abandon a search for her 7-year-old grandson when an aftershock closed a space where he was believed to be.

100,000 dead a minimum?
For many, though, the five days since the magnitude-7.0 quake hit have turned into an aching wait for the food, water and medical care slowly making its way from an overwhelmed airport rife with political squabbles. And while aid is reaching the country, growing impatience among the suffering has spawned some violence.

Image: Rescuers inside part of the Carib Market
Carlos Garcia Rawlins  /  Reuters
Rescuers search part of the 5-story Carib Market on Sunday.
Nobody knows how many died in Tuesday's quake. Haiti's government alone has already recovered 20,000 bodies — not counting those recovered by independent agencies or relatives themselves, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said.

The Pan American Health Organization now says 50,000 to 100,000 people perished in the quake. Bellerive said 100,000 would "seem to be the minimum."

A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman declared the quake the worst disaster the international organization has ever faced, since so much government and U.N. capacity in the country was demolished. In that way, Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva, it's worse than the cataclysmic Asian tsunami of 2004: "Everything is damaged."

Truckloads of corpses were being trundled to mass graves. Search teams also recovered the body of Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, the United Nations chief of mission in Haiti, and other top U.N. officials who were killed when their headquarters collapsed.

Aid delivery appeared to be speeding up.

Florence Louis, seven months pregnant with two children, was one of thousands of Haitians who gathered at a gate at the Cite Soleil slum, where U.N. World Food Program workers handed out high-energy biscuits for the first time.

"It is enough because I didn't have anything at all," said Louis, 29, clutching four packets of biscuits.

The Haitian government has established 14 distribution points for food and other supplies, and U.S. Army helicopters scouted locations for more. Aid groups opened five emergency health centers. Vital gear, such as water-purification units, was arriving from abroad.

On a hillside golf course, perhaps 50,000 people were sleeping in a makeshift tent city overlooking the stricken capital. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division flew there Saturday to set up a base for handing out water and food.

After the initial frenzy among the waiting crowd, when helicopters could only hover and toss out their cargo, a second flight landed and soldiers passed out some 2,000 military-issue ready-to-eat meals to an orderly line of Haitians.

But aid delivery was still bogged down by congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport, quake damage at the seaport, poor roads and the fear of looters and robbers.

"Many people are just fleeing to the countryside, they are looking for a place to stay and for food," said Enel Legrand, a 24-year-old Haitian volunteer aid worker.

Tension over relief flights
The airport congestion also touched off diplomatic rows between the U.S. military and other donor nations. France and Brazil both lodged official complaints that the U.S. military, in control of the international airport, had denied landing permission to relief flights from their countries.

Haitian President Rene Preval, speaking with the AP, urged all to "keep our cool and coordinate and not throw accusations."

As relief teams grappled with on-the-ground obstacles, U.S. leadership promised Saturday to step up aid efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited and pledged more American assistance. President Barack Obama met with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in Washington and urged Americans to donate to Haiti relief efforts.

In Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitians simply dropped to their knees outside a warehouse when workers for the agency Food for the Poor announced they would distribute rice, beans and other supplies.

"They started praying right then and there," said project director Clement Belizaire.

Children and the elderly were asked to step first into line, and some 1,500 people got food, soap and rubber sandals until supplies ran out, he said.

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