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Hofstra's Riviere saw Haiti horrors firsthand

As he flew to his native Haiti to search for his missing uncle and help the relief effort, David Riviere thought of the good times. The 30-year-old assistant athletic trainer at Hofstra remembered what Haiti had been.

In lush, tropical surroundings, Riviere grew up in his grandmother's house alongside aunts, uncles and cousins.

"My grandmother's house had seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, two living rooms," he said. "All the houses in the neighborhood were that size. You went to school, to work, to parties. It was like living in a suburb of Long Island."

Riviere's plane landed in the Dominican Republic and, with some companions, he drove toward the earthquake's epicenter in Port-au-Prince. Crossing the border into Haiti, Riviere said, "You could smell the dead bodies. People were coming toward the car, peeking through. Somebody told us to put our food into a suitcase so as not to be so noticeable."

He arrived in the capital city and later described the scene. "My initial reaction was disbelief," he said. "All that was left was debris. Where there was a store, where there was a government building. People were walking around aimlessly, trying to save what they could."

This was all leading up to the spot where Riviere's uncle, Herbert Kanzki, was last seen. Riviere thought it appropriate to first describe the man. He was a person before he became a victim.

"Growing up, he took us to school in the morning,'' he said, "and every Sunday we had a ritual. We went to church, then we'd all jump into his pickup and ride to the beach. Every Sunday, we would have good times."

The family knew that Riviere's uncle was working in the Hotel Montana when the earthquake hit. "He works as a mechanic,'' Riviere said, "and he was working in the Montana on their generators."

Now the hotel is in ruins. Said Riviere, "He is under it."

Riviere's uncle is officially listed as missing; the family presumes he is dead. "He has a wife and three children," Riviere said. "They are basically in shock. They want to have closure."

Miraculously, the house that Riviere grew up in, about 40 minutes from Port-au-Prince, was unscathed by the quake. Nearby homes were left in ruins. Riviere's family has since opened the home to doctors and medical personnel needing shelter after their hospital rounds.

Riviere could do nothing at the Montana but grieve, so he went to a nearby hospital, where his training in sports medicine was welcome.

"There was an ER doctor who asked me, 'What can you do, what is your specialty?' '' he said. "I said I could help with wounds and dressings."

Riviere will return in May, but for now, "I think about the people I left. Have they gotten their surgeries, have they gotten the help they needed?

"What sticks in my mind the most is the baby whose right arm had become infected to the point where they had to amputate. Doctors were holding him down on the floor.

"A lot of people are becoming invalids. They are on crutches, missing a leg. Every single class has been affected. The wealthy, the poor, everybody has lost something. To the ones who didn't have anything at all, they have lost a lot more."

Meaning, before the quake, they had each other.

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