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Haiti quake survivor: Sharing hope, talk, and a Tootsie Pop

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Trapped for 50 hours
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Santos and 5 colleagues were pinned under rubble by Tuesday quake
  • Wednesday morning, they heard searchers and talked to them, but then nothing
  • Rescuers finally came back and got them out on Thursday night
  • Two of Santos' colleagues died in the debris of collapsed Hotel Montana

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- The head of a humanitarian aid group and a few of his colleagues survived 50 hours beneath the rubble of a hotel, with the help of a few things he keeps in his bag for his two young children.

"We had one Tootsie Pop and we did share that," said Rick Santos, president and CEO of IMA World Health.

He also had a bit of gum.

While the supplies helped, Santos said, "I think we made it because we talked to each other, we helped each other, and we had this hope that we would be rescued at some point."

Two of his colleagues did not survive.

Santos and five colleagues had been walking through the lobby of the Hotel Montana last Tuesday when he saw one of the chandeliers swing. "And before it even made its way down, just everything crashed and collapsed on top of us," he told CNN's "American Morning" on Monday.

"Immediately we were looking around talking to each other, trying to see if everyone was OK. Unfortunately two of my colleagues were pinned down by rubble and were injured. So we did what we could to help ease their pain at that moment."

Santos had some over-the-counter pain medicine and gave it to them.

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"My biggest fear initially was that there wasn't going to be enough air for the six of us," he said. Then, when it became clear there was enough air, "We started talking about what we need to do. And, you know, from the size of the earthquake, from what we heard and what we felt and how fast the building fell, we knew it was a big quake."

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The next morning, they could hear sledgehammers pounding as rescuers were checking to see if there were survivors. The trapped group screamed and banged on the walls, and rescuers heard them. The rescuers asked how many there were; Santos answered eight -- six in his group, and two other men trapped in an elevator shaft.

"They said, 'Are you well?' And we said, 'No, we're hurt.' And that was it. Then it really wasn't until we were rescued, till 7 p.m. the next night, that actually somebody came. We heard nothing. In fact, the second night was really dark for us. I think we were just -- we were just shattered that nobody came back and said anything to us."

The group used their cell phones to illuminate the space. Santos said only one of his colleagues could move, and she looked for air spaces and light.

"Every time we might have heard a voice or something like a saw or something, we would scream and yell, but there was no response," Santos said.

Then, on Thursday, came a voice. "We all started to scream and shout at the top of our lungs. And we heard a voice come back to us saying, you know, 'Hello, we're here. We're going to rescue you.' "

It took four hours to get the group out. Rescuers had to cut through layers of concrete, pull the trapped people out by their feet and squeeze them through a hole in the concrete only about 2 feet wide.

"I'm just amazed that we actually survived," said Santos. He added that he is grieving for his two colleagues who died.

While Santos is relieved to be reunited with his family in the United States, his thoughts are with the people of Haiti.

The whole time he and the others were down there, Santos said, "As much as we were praying for ourselves, we were also praying for the people of Haiti and of Port-au-Prince. Because we knew how bad this was going to be, just from the way the building fell, and the aftershocks, which were just tremendous."

IMA World Health provides health care services and supplies in poor countries including Haiti. "It's going to take years, if not decades, to really, really help that country," he said.

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