Haiti celebrates hero in tragic school collapse
November 14, 2008
By Joseph Guyler Delva
An unemployed man who risked life and limb to pull children from the rubble of
a collapsed school was celebrated as a national hero on Thursday by the
impoverished Caribbean nation’s president.
More than 90 people were killed in the disaster involving the La Promesse
school, a ramshackle three-story building that collapsed in a slum on the
outskirts of the Haitian capital.
Ronaldo Charilus, 29, said he rushed to the structure soon after it caved in
“When I arrived on the site, I prayed and said to myself my life was not mine
anymore. I left it in God’s hands,” Charilus told Reuters. “And from that
moment on, I stopped thinking about my life but about the innocent children’s
Charilus, dubbed “Ronaldo the Hero” by the Haitian media, saved the lives of
several dozen children trapped under the debris while putting his own life in
almost constant danger, according to numerous eyewitness reports.
President Rene Preval, who visited the disaster site several times, told an
awards ceremony at the National Palace on Thursday that Charilus was tireless
in his efforts.
“The young man was all over the place. He worked with so much energy that he
grabbed my attention,” Preval said.
Though his dogged efforts continued day and night for several days running,
Preval noted that Charilus was officially unemployed like so many other people
in the poorest nation in the hemisphere.
“When I asked Ronaldo if he had slept, he replied to me by saying, ‘Mr.
President I can’t sleep and I will never be able to sleep as long as I know
there are people still trapped under the rubble,'” said Preval.
Several other rescue workers also were recognized for their service at the
ceremony, but Charilus was clearly the star.
“He crawled like a snake through the rubble and squeezed himself into holes
from which he was not sure whether he would be able to come out,” said Gael
Pinson, who worked alongside Charilus at the school site.
The school disaster, blamed on shoddy construction, struck as Haiti was
struggling to recover from four tropical storms and hurricanes that killed more
than 800 people and destroyed 60 percent of the nation’s crops in August and
Charilus, the father of a 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, said he acted
as if his own children had been caught up in the tragedy.
“You know there is nothing a loving and responsible father won’t do to save his
children in immediate danger,” he said.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)