PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A rice vendor may have lived under the rubble of a flea market for 27 days with little more than water and possibly fruit, a doctor said Tuesday, in what would be a dramatic tale of survival four weeks after Haiti's devastating earthquake.
The man's account could not be independently confirmed, however, and the doctor conceded medical workers were skeptical at first, but he said they began to believe the man when he regained consciousness and told his story.
The man said he had just finished selling rice for the day at a downtown flea market when quake struck Jan. 12. He said he didn't suffer any major injuries and was trapped on his side in an area where food and drink vendors were selling their goods.
"Based on that (his story), we believe him," said Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera, a physician at the University of Miami Medishare field hospital where hundreds of patients have been treated since the quake.
Doctors said two men first took the vendor — identified as Evans Monsigrace — to a Salvation Army medical center in Port-au-Prince on Monday and he was then taken to the University of Miami hospital because of his critical condition. The men who brought him also said he had been trapped under the debris since the disaster.
The patient was suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition, but health care workers expressed skepticism about his story when some of his lab work came back relatively normal, Jayaweera said. Then the man regained consciousness and was lucid enough to recount a tale that seems plausible, the doctor said.
Still, doctors at the field hospital or at a Salvation Army medical center had no way to confirm the story.
The last confirmed survivor found in Haiti was a 16-year-old girl removed from rubble by a French rescue team 15 days after the quake. Doctors said at the time that disaster survivors may be able to sustain themselves with a water supply and without medical attention for up to two weeks.
Nery Ynclan, a University of Miami media officer in Haiti, said the rice vendor was in stable condition Tuesday and being treated for dehydration and malnutrition.
"Someone could not survive 28 days without water," Ynclan said of the frail 28-year-old man whose legs are rail thin. "You can go nine weeks without food."
Jayaweera said the man originally claimed that he had not had any water or food. The man, however, had a normal kidney function with heart palpitations, suggesting he drank at least had some water but not enough to avoid getting dehydrated, the doctor said.
"He came in delirious, asking to die," Ynclan said, noting Creole translators were at the field hospital.
"He's still out of it. He answers basic questions," she said, adding he was nibbling on chocolate and probably would be at the field hospital for a week.
The man's mother, who was at the field hospital, told workers that people clearing rubble from downtown discovered him and alerted his brothers.
A videotape shot by Michael Andrew, an Arizona-based freelance photographer and a volunteer at the Salvation Army medical center, shows doctors on Monday trying without success to insert a needle into the man's arm to give him fluid. Doctors there then referred the man to the field hospital at the airport, Andrew told The Associated Press.
Andrew said the man was delirious and identified himself through an interpreter as Evans Muncie, 28. The Salvation Army, in a brief posting on its Web site, identified him Tuesday as Evan Ocinia.
That posting says the two men, whom it didn't identify, found the man in the debris of the market Monday. But Andrew said Tuesday it wasn't clear whether others had provided food and water to the man and that many details of the case had yet to be learned.
It also wasn't known why teams of international search and rescue workers were not alerted to the man's reported circumstances in the wrecked market.
The Haiti quake killed 230,000 people, the Haitian government said Tuesday.