Pulled from rubble: Israeli rescue team 'motivated me to survive'
PORT-AU-PRINCE - Among the many patients being treated by the Israeli delegation to Haiti was Frances Gilles, 59, the first survivor the team managed to rescue in the destroyed capital. Gilles, who was trapped for over four days in an air pocket under the ruins of the local tax authority building, was able to make one phone call from his mobile phone to a relative, explaining his exact location.
The successful rescue sparked frenzied cheers in the flattened government quarter. "Thank you Israel! We love you Israel! Well done!" were some of the cries heard from the crowd. Gilles, however, was the last survivor rescued from the building; everyone else inside was dead.
Upon reaching the scene, rescuers first had to cut through a locked metal gate. An earlier batch of rescuers from another country failed to reach Gilles and then left, at which point the director of the tax authority locked the gate for fear of looting.
Gilles was not only alive but fully conscious when he was pulled out, asking his rescuers not to forget the cell phone that had saved his life."Lying there, I could feel the building was moving, but the concrete was closing me in," he recalled yesterday in the hospital, holding the hand of Moshe Zohar, who commanded the Israeli rescue unit. Gilles' face was less bloated and his eyes slowly began to open up. "There were cables all around me - I could feel some parts of an air conditioner and a fax machine. I could only move my right hand and then I blacked out, I don't know for how long."
"When I woke up it was dark," Gilles continued. "I didn't know if it was night or day. For a while, I could hear a woman's voice somewhere, but it gradually faded away. I was praying for someone to come and get me out. I heard noise in the building, they were probably looking for people, but I don't know if they could hear me. The worst was the pain. On the second day my entire body started to hurt, I felt like I wasn't going to get out alive. If you hadn't found me yesterday, I probably wouldn't have made it. But when you started talking to me, asking me questions and holding my hand, it motivated me to survive."
"I thought that being inside a government building meant they would come sooner, but in the only call I managed to make from the cell phone my relative told me everything was destroyed, that half the city collapsed and it would take a while to get to me. Still, I was hoping the phone call would help."
"I know it was very hard and I have no words strong enough to say my thanks. This is the work of a very, very trained and special team," Gilles said.
In the airport, meanwhile, crates were still being unloaded - but no one knew where the aid would go, while more and more hands reach out for help. The rescue group continued working.