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Rep. Rohrabacher tries to aid man trapped in Haiti

Jan 26, 2010
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Washington, Jan 26, 2010 - You never know how the people you meet may one day be useful.

Charlie Santos, a former U.N. employee who worked closely with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher for years on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had no idea that his personal relationship with the Huntington Beach Republican one day might help to save his brother’s life.

Upon hearing that Santos’ brother, Richard “Rick” Santos of Silver Spring, Md., was missing in Haiti following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, Rohrabacher and his Capitol Hill staff were determined to do what they could to help.

In the end it was a French rescue team that unearthed Santos, who was trapped for more than 50 hours beneath the rubble of a Port-au-Prince hotel. But, Charlie Santos said, it was reassuring that a member Congress whom his brother had never met would at least offer his aid.

“In crises like these, you go to the people you know and trust,” Charlie Santos added. “It’s strange how you build a relationship with someone and they become family and your family becomes theirs.”

While the end effect of his staff’s repeated calls to federal agencies may have been limited, Rohrabacher said Monday, “We tried to give (the Santoses) as much encouragement as we could.”

Rick Santos is president and CEO of IMA World Health, an interfaith, non-profit organization that provides health supplies and services to developing countries. He was in Haiti on Jan. 12 for a meeting on “neglected tropical diseases” when the Hotel Montana literally crumbled around him.

After visiting with the Haitian Minister of Health on the afternoon of Jan. 12, Rick Santos said he was speaking to three members of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in the hotel lobby.

Two of the UMCOR members – Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon and Rev. Clinton Rabb – would not make it home alive. Santos would leave with deep bruises and a sore back.

Rick Santos said all he remembers from the earthquake was seeing a chandelier move sharply in one direction. Before it could swing back the other way, concrete slabs from the hotel’s roof crashed down around the 46-year-old husband and father of two.

Santos, another IMA worker and the three Methodist committee members were confined to a tiny compartment among the debris caused when the slabs connected with the hotel’s reception desk.

They would stay in the space for the next two days, subsisting on pieces of gum and a lollipop that Santos had in his pocket.

He said the group – and three others survivors – heard helicopters overhead and people hammering on concrete the day after the earthquake, but, other than that, they had no connection to the outside world until being rescued.

According to Santos, it took French firefighters four or five hours to saw through the rubble before he was able to inch his way out under two concrete blocks. He was pulled out of the wreckage by his ankles and placed on a stretcher.

“I stood up for the first time and saw the stars above me (and thought), ‘Oh my god. I can’t believe I’m here,’” Santos said.

Officials with the United States Agency for International Development arranged for Santos’ trip home, which, Rick Santos said he believes was eased by calls from Rohrabacher’s staff.

He arrived at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport within 24 hours of his rescue.

Asked to explain his office’s involvement, Rohrabacher said, “We were encouraging AID and those people not to give up and to look directly for Richard.”

A special assistant to the congressman said he took down all of the information Charlie Santos gave him and contacted the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. State Department.
But, he added, it was “such a desperate situation. Everyone was looking for their own people,” including the Department of State.

Still, Rick Santos said, “I’m so thankful to (Rohrbacher) … I have so many people who didn’t know me that tried to do things on my behalf.”

In addition to his brother’s correspondence with Rohrabacher, he also credited the efforts by IMA World Health, his wife’s colleagues at the Pan-American Health Organization and his brother-in-law, who identified other earthquake victims at Hotel Montana through a Facebook page that had been created.

“I was just overwhelmed by how many people mobilized so quickly and reached out to everyone they knew to respond to us,” Rick Santos said. “With that many people looking, we knew we were going to be rescued eventually.”

On Monday, his first day back on the job at IMA, Santos said his message to the American public was to stay connected and involved in Haiti.

“It will take more than a decade to work with Haitians to rebuild it,” he said.
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Original article: OC Register