The French words Je t’aime, which means ‘I love you,’ could never have been sweeter for Indian-origin South African rescue team leader Ahmed Bham in Haiti, and will linger in his memory for ever.

The twist in the tale is that they were not spoken by a young romantic but by a grateful 69-year-old woman, Ena Zinzi, who Mr. Bham pulled out of the ruins of a building on the earthquake-devastated island nation.

“We gave her water to drink. Her first words when she came out were Je t’aime and she started singing what the other rescuers told us was a song in praise of the Lord,” Mr. Bham said.

“I can’t explain to you the feeling of hearing her voice after seven days of being stuck under all that rubble.

“I have never seen my group as motivated as they were to get to that person as soon as possible,” added Mr. Bham, who is part of the Gift of the Givers Foundation.

‘Indescribable feeling’

“As we were going in deeper and deeper, the voice started getting louder and louder and the feeling of the team once we first saw the person was indescribable,” he said.

Ms. Zinzi had been buried in the rubble for a week when Mr. Bham’s team, refusing to give up the struggle to find survivors as tens of thousands lay dead and dying around them, joined a Mexican rescue team in rescuing her.

“Haiti was already in a crisis when the earthquake happened. It was so over-populated; the structures were already collapsing. It took a lot of time to get help to all the people,” he told PTI.

Not even the experience of working in Pakistan two years ago — after an earthquake there killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless — could have prepared Mr. Bham, a lecturer at the North-West Province Emergency Medical Rescue College in Orkney, for the devastation in Haiti.

“It was much, much worse than Pakistan,” he said, was speaking to the media at the offices of the Gift of the Givers Foundation here on Monday.

“The first thing we did was go out with the Mexican team on a search-and-rescue mission after we were told that seven people were believed to be alive at a missionary station and we should go and confirm this.

“When we went out there, it revealed to us the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster,” he said.

“The next day our duty for the day was to identify 600 bodies at a Catholic church. I sent four of our team to set up a hospital to start treatment and six of us went with the Mexican team and a dog to search for survivors at the church. Today at half-past one the dog detected the lady that we rescued,” Mr. Bham added.

69-year-old Ena Zinzi had been buried in the rubble for a week when Ahmed Bham rescued her

Haiti devastation ‘much, much worse than Pakistan’ earthquake two years ago: Bham

More In: International | News