Outside the rubble, the crowds and impeded the work of the rescuers. Élie tried to convince police and soldiers to control the mob. At one point during the day, Haitian president René Préval arrived to survey the disaster. Élie charged up to him, shook his hand, and pleaded with him to set up barricades around the site. “He said, ‘Okay, we’ll do it. We’ll do it,’” Élie said. “Then he left.” She doesn’t know whether he followed her advice.
In the days that followed, images in her mind of the trapped boys, the brave girl and the rows of little shoes stayed with Élie. But her experience as a humanitarian medical worker allowed her to process the trauma and the grief she had witnessed. “I’m a nurse. My personality is to turn the page. I’m able to do that,” she said. “It didn’t traumatize me because you cannot be traumatized every time that you see something like that.”
More than 80 people died in the tragedy that day. Élie cannot be sure how many others may have perished without her efforts, but she doesn’t see herself as a hero. “At the end of the day, I felt like I didn’t do anything,” she said. “But I did some things for sure. I made a little difference.”
Élie said receiving the Medal of Bravery felt strange because she was simply responding to her impulse. “It was natural,” she explained. “I have to help. That’s it. I’m like that.” Élie wasn’t being brave on that terrible day in Port-au-Prince. She was being herself.