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Haiti earthquake: How a top UN official was plucked from the rubble

Jens Kristensen, the senior humanitarian officer with the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti, tells what it was like to be trapped for five days and saved by a search-and-rescue team from Fairfax, Va.

Members of US rescue team pull UN staff Jens Kristensen from the rubble of the United Nations mission in Haiti in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 17.

Marco Dormino/MINUSTAH/Reuters

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There are so many people from so many countries assigned to so many tasks at the sprawling earthquake-relief operations center at the Port-au-Prince airport that few probably know who Jens Kristensen is when he walks by.

But Mr. Kristensen, the senior humanitarian officer with the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), could very well be the poster boy for the international emergency response that kicked in after Haiti’s devastating 7.0 earthquake on Jan. 12.

Kristensen, a Dane, was one of the hundreds of fortunate individuals who were pulled from the quake’s rubble by search-and-rescue teams that poured into Haiti after the quake. He was one of the few who survived beyond the 72-hour period that rescue experts say is generally the cut-off point for finding buried survivors.

Kristensen was pulled from the rubble of MINUSTAH’s offices by the Fairfax Search and Rescue Squad out of Virginia Beach, Va., on Sunday, Jan. 17 – five days after his work environment crashed down around him.

"The most frustrating thing about the whole experience was the noise – the noise I was sure was keeping people out there from hearing my calls for help,” says Kristensen, referring to the electrical generators and equipment that had been deployed as part of a desperate rescue effort.

At least 70 staff members perished at the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince’s Christopher Hotel, and 146 are still unaccounted for.

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