Editor's note: AC360° Executive Producer Charlie Moore was on the ground in Haiti for nearly a month with Anderson Cooper after the earthquake struck two years ago. A few days ago, he and Anderson returned to the places where they documented catastrophic destruction, suffering and brave rescues from beneath the rubble. Tune in to CNN on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET for their full report.
It had been ten days since the earthquake hit and Ena Zizi was still buried. Somehow, miraculously, rescuers heard her faint cries and were now trying to find her under the rubble of the church that had collapsed on her.
Emergency rescue teams from Germany were tunneling into the rubble, sending men snaking through the concrete to look for a pocket where Ena might be found. Dogs climbed over and into the wreckage, barking when they “hit” on human scent. The mountain of debris was massive – 30 feet high and around 200 feet long. It was big enough for two teams, so on top of the debris a rescue team from Mexico was frantically digging and peeling back massive chunks of concrete and throwing them with a thud in every direction. Despite the frenzy, it was delicate work. They still didn’t know where Ena was buried, so throwing a slab of rock in the wrong direction could mean crushing the trapped woman. An even bigger fear was how easily the whole rock pile could shift. Peeling out layers of the rubble meant changing the foundation, so at any moment the rescuers were worried the entire thing could collapse on itself.
The rescuers worked for hours, while continuing to hear Ena’s faint cries for help, which let them hone in on her location. As night approached there was a flurry of activity on the top of the debris pile. Then suddenly a frail and elderly woman, Ena Zizi, was yanked from a small air pocket surrounded by tons of stone. A huge cheer erupted from the rescue teams and the dozens of onlookers who had gathered. Rescue workers immediately formed a chain down the debris pile, passing her along and finally laying her on the grass, covering her with a thermal blanket and giving her water. A crowd of journalists pushed close to shoot pictures, while Ena Zizi rolled on the ground mumbling, clearly in pain.
Immediately behind her, an odd scene broke out. The rescue team from Mexico started posing for pictures, one of them dressed as Bozo the Clown. The more subdued German team was receiving congratulations while arranging for a stretcher to take Ena to a nearby hospital.
We had been reporting on the search and rescue and as Ena was carted away, we started to wind down, happy we could tell a story with a positive ending in a place where there were so few. Ten minutes later, our colleague Ivan Watson told us he followed Ena to the hospital, and that the hospital was overwhelmed and couldn’t treat her wounds. The hospital, run by Cuban doctors, was just around the corner, so I walked over and found Ena, alone, simply lying in the dirt. It’s not as if she was being ignored. The doctors were doing the best they could, but there were hundreds of wounded patients and Ena, with no friends or family around, was simply the last in line.
I talked to a doctor and explained what had happened: that this woman had just survived 10 days buried in rubble and needed care and he agreed to come to the yard and check her wounds. The doctor quickly determined she had a broken femur and said the hospital didn’t have the ability to treat her injury. There was nothing he could do. Considering what she’d been through, and her age, the doctor said she would probably die in a few days. I don’t think Ena understood what was going on. She just lay in the dirt, a blank stare on her face.
I’ve been thinking about Ena a bit more recently around the two-year anniversary of the earthquake. What happened to her that day isn’t totally unlike what happened to the country as a whole in the ensuing two years. There was a flurry of activity, of international support, immediately after the quake, but when the rescue phase passed, people moved on. The International Haiti Rescue Fund, led by former President Bill Clinton, became mired in politics and recently saw its mandate expire. Less than half of the $4.6 billion allocated to the fund was ever dispersed. There are still more than half a million Haitians living in camps. There is still no master, coordinated rebuilding plan.
Anderson and I spent the weekend in Haiti and talked to the country’s new, charismatic president, Michel Martelly. A former pop star, President Martelly clearly loves people – crowds – so upon meeting at his residence he quickly jumped into a car and took us to a former camp that he had just cleared out, restoring it to a park. When Martelly left the car an enthusiastic crowd of a few hundred quickly gathered. During the interview, the President readily admitted he doesn’t “have a magic stick” to solve Haiti’s problems, and that improvement will be seen over time. He also acknowledged Haiti’s history of corruption and said he hoped he could find someone in his government breaking the law, so he could punish them to send a signal to the world that he’s serious about the rule of law and a transparent government.
After the Cuban doctor was unable to treat Ena's wounds we got word that another group of doctors had heard of her situation and could help. They had the equipment and would try and airlift her to their facility. An hour later, Ena was loaded onto a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and taken to a care center.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unavoidably in a disaster of this magnitude, that was the last we saw of Ena. Though, we did hear from contacts that she survived and made a full recovery.
Despite all its challenges, Haiti too still has that chance.