Kiki’s father, Odinel, was trapped in his office at the Haitian customs service. It would take him two days to find his wife. When she told him that five of their children were buried in the wreckage of their home, “I asked a neighbor to chop off my head,” Odinel recalls, “because I had no reason to live.”
For eight days, Kiki was buried beneath the ruins of his apartment building. He and Sabrina, 11, huddled in a tiny space under tons of rubble, with no food or water, barely able to move; nearby lay Titite, four, and the bodies of their little sisters Yeye, nine, and Didine, 15 months.
“When our house fell down, I thought I was going to die,” Kiki recalls. On their fifth day in the ruins, he says, “I saw my brother die right next to me.” He remembers weeping as Sabrina covered little Titite with her T-shirt.
Then on the eighth day, a neighbor rummaging for her possessions heard Kiki’s faint cries for water. Two firefighters, New Yorker Chris Dunic and Virginian Brad Antons, spent the next four hours cautiously drilling through the debris and finally reached Kiki and his sister.
“The hardest thing was getting the kid to come up,” says Dunic, who was wearing a helmet and a face mask and wielding a jackhammer. “We were scaring him.” Finally, Kiki’s neighbor reassured him. Dunic reached down and handed the boy to her.
As Kiki was raised from the hole, he broke into a blazing grin and flung out his arms in a victory gesture.
In the midst of a disaster that killed 220,000 people, Sabrina and Kiki’s rescue was a welcome bit of good news. “I smiled because I was free,” Kiki told reporters. “I smiled because I was alive.”