Man Rescued From Rubble After 11 Days
By Gina Chon
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HaitiWithout light or darkness to indicate the passage of time, Wismond Exantus didn't know how many days he had spent trapped in the rubble that used to be a grocery store at the Napoli Hotel.
When international rescue workers pulled him out on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Exantus, 24, had been there for 11 days. Miraculously, he emerged virtually unscathed, without broken bones or other visible injuries. He was exhausted and dehydrated but didn't need any other medical care, doctors said.
On Saturday, the Haitian government said search and rescue efforts would be halted since there was little hope of finding more survivors. But Mr. Exantus' story has many Haitians believing that search efforts should continue."I can't be the only one who has been blessed. There must be others out there who still need to be saved," Mr. Exantus said as he lay on a cot at a French field hospital in the Bourdon area of the capital, a few miles from where he was rescued.
When the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, Mr. Exantus was working at the grocery store. As the ground shook and the ceiling began to collapse, he could see five other people in front of him running from the store. But Mr. Exantus froze and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found he was lying on his side under a desk.
Although he was in an awkward position, his limbs weren't pinned under anything, and he used his hands to search for his cellphone. Instead, he felt a case of soda cans that turned out to be Coke. He fished around some more and found bags of potato chips, but not his phone.
"I yelled for help but no one could hear me," Mr. Exantus said in an interview Sunday. He became animated as he talked, lifting his head and gesturing with his hands as he told his story of survival.
As the days passed, he settled into a routine. When he got thirsty or hungry, he drank Coke and ate potato chips.
A window nearby, blocked by rubble, let in some air but no light.
"I didn't know if two days had passed or six," Mr. Exantus said. "If I had known how long it had been, I don't think I would've survived because I would've become desperate."
He wondered if he would see his family again and worried about this mother. Occasionally he could hear voices outside, which gave him hope that someone would come for him soon, but they never seemed to hear him tapping or shouting.
"I especially thought about my mother because I knew if I died, my mom would soon die afterward from the grief," he said.
In the meantime, his older brother Jean Pierre Ernsohe took his father's last name, while Mr. Exantus took his mother's nameand their three other brothers had spent every day since the earthquake trying to remove the pieces of cement trapping Mr. Exantus. Mr. Ernso was the one who told Greek and French rescue workers that he heard his brother's voice amid the rubble.
"I prayed in the morning and then we would go to the store and work from 6 in the morning to 6 at night to move the rocks," said Mr. Ernso, 41. "We never gave up hope."
On Saturday, when he heard voices, Mr. Exantus began tapping on the desk three times. On the third series of taps, he heard someone call out, "Is anyone there?"
Immediately, Mr. Exantus yelled as loud as he could, "I'm here." The voice told him to keep tapping and asked if he was the owner of the store. "No, I'm Wismond. I work here," he said.
When they pulled him out, Mr. Exantus squinted at the sun. He seemed surprised at how many people had come to help him, noting in a cracked voice that his rescuers may have been more tired than he was since they had to dig through a mountain of cement.
Dr. Marc Bandittini-Landucci, of the French Civil Security rescue squad, said Mr. Exantus was very tired and dehydrated but had no other injuries. His doctors will monitor him for two days and if no problems arise, Mr. Exantus will be discharged.
"He's a very lucky guy," the doctor said. "But signs of injuries could appear later so we will continue to monitor him."
On Sunday, Mr. Ernso and a young brother visited Mr. Exantus, bringing him some rice and clothes. He gave interviews to some media, but mainly slept.
"I know how blessed I am," he said. "I promised God that if I was rescued, I would spend the rest of my life serving him. That's what I plan to do when I get better."