Latin America

Loved Ones Keep Vigil Amid Hotel Montana's Ruins

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The Hotel Montana was one of the nicest hotels in Haiti's capital city. It attracted an international blend of tourists, aid workers and dignitaries.

So its collapse in the earthquake two weeks ago immediately captured the world's attention. Some people were rescued, but officials say there may be as many as 100 still missing in the rubble.

Eric Nyman's fiancee was buried in the Jan. 12 quake.

Eric Nyman's fiancee was buried in the rubble of the Jan. 12 quake. He keeps vigil at Port-au-Prince's destroyed Hotel Montana. Tamara Keith/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Tamara Keith/NPR

The hotel is perched up on a hill with a view of the entire city. But Eric Nyman, 36, isn't looking at the scenery. He can't take his eyes off the pile of shattered concrete where he knows his fiancee is trapped — lost somewhere in a tangle of rebar, rock and bedsheets.

He couldn't imagine being anywhere else. "Of course not; that's the love of my life," Nyman says.

He's sitting next to the Montana's empty pool, one of the few spots at the hotel still intact.

When the earthquake struck, the California native was in Panama. He's an environmental engineer and does development work there. That's where he met his fiancee, Chrystel Cancel, 35, who is from France. She had just arrived in Port-au-Prince to work with USAID.

Nyman says, "I was sitting in front of the TV and in front of the computer with very little information, and I just, I just had to move. So I came to the site and started the search along with everyone else."

Teams from the United States and elsewhere are using heavy machinery now.

A small group of family members, mostly Haitians, huddle in the shade outside of what was once a restaurant. It is now a temporary morgue. There's a large handwritten list of the missing, their gender and nationality. A candle flickers on a ledge in front of it.

Alix Pasquet is looking for his former brother-in-law, Woody Bennett.

"He's buried somewhere underneath this rubble," Pasquet says.

He knows Bennett is in the hotel's restaurant, where every Tuesday at the same time he would enjoy gazpacho with his friends. The restaurant was flattened.

"You can smell, you know, the smell of death is very strong," Pasquet adds. "Even if I force the French to remove every single slab of concrete, I'm going to have them do it until I find his body."

Nyman has the same resolve.

"At this point, I've lived several lifetimes. The things that I've seen inside that hotel — everyone here knows why I'm here and who I'm looking for. So when she is found, I will know it. I'm not going to visit the body. I will just have closure. But then again, there are miracles."

Nyman and his fiancee had only been engaged for three days.

The pain is visible in his face. He's crying, and so is everyone around him.



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