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Once the Favored Refuge for Tourists and Diplomats, the Majestic
 Hotel Montana Haiti Reduced to a Pile Rubble; Some Fear
 200 Guests Still Missing

By Mike Clary, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 19 -- PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Once the favored refuge for tourists, foreign aid workers and diplomats, the majestic Hotel Montana, with its terraces, pool and 100-year-old mahogany tree, has been reduced to a pile of dusty concrete rubble on a hillside.

It's within that debris that rescue teams, working against time, hope to find more of the approximately 200 people missing in the hotel, including four students and two professors from Boca Raton's Lynn University.

While there have been cases of miraculous survival after many days, rescue workers typically regard five days as the limit one could live buried without food or water. But that grim deadline depends on several variables: a person's physique, the extent of one's injuries, the environment.

Only about 100 out of almost 300 people escaped the four-star, five-story hotel after last week's earthquake. Foreign health workers and engineers are among those missing within the collapsed structure that once boasted full-course dinners and stylish furnishings.

But there is hope: 23 survivors were pulled from the hotel's ruins Saturday. Two days earlier, a dozen were found. Monday, Ecuadoreans operating heavy machinery assailed the rockpile. They were helped by volunteer American physicians who had read accounts of the students' plight.

"I had never heard of Lynn University. But we were planning to come, and the school gave us the way to get in and be useful," said James Laws, a cardiologist from West Hills, Calif., who leads a private aid group called Knightsbridge Internationals.

In addition to joining in the search for the missing students, Laws said he sought information on the fate of one his employees. Walt Ratterman, 55, also is missing in the Montana. Ratterman was in Haiti to teach residents how to install solar panels.

Minutes after arriving by bus at the hotel early Monday, Laws met the American firefighter leading the rescue effort, who assigned him to serve on a decontamination team probing for bodies and survivors.

"He was a no-nonsense guy. He asked me, 'Are you here to save one American and then leave?'" said Laws, "I said, 'No, we're here until at least Friday.' So he put us to work."

Unable to get all the way up to the hotel gate in their bus in which they traveled from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Laws and his colleagues had to load the supplies they brought -- including 900 gallons of water and 200 pounds of rice and pasta -- into a United Nations truck, which then climbed another half-mile up the mountain to the hotel, which was guarded by U.N. soldiers from the Philippines.

While the supplies were transferred, another man connected to Laws' foundation, there to search for his own missing fiance, went to the overwhelmed city morgue Monday with pictures of the four students. No matches were found.

Staff Writer Robert Nolin contributed to this report.

Mike Clary can be reached at mclary@SunSentinel.com or 305-810-5007.

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Copyright (c) 2010, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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