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Andre Berto's memories of 2010 earthquake in Haiti remain fresh

BILL DWYRE

Berto took part in rescue efforts after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the country he considers home, leaving behind a world of devastation that the boxer will never forget.

December 24, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Andre Berto goes on the offensive against Carlos Quintana during a bout last year.
Andre Berto goes on the offensive against Carlos Quintana during a bout… (Cristobal Herrera / Sun-Sentinel )

Boxer Andre Berto recently pondered the thought of his upcoming opponent, Victor Ortiz, battered, bloodied and flat on his back, and he said that scenario would not bother him in the least.

Berto was not trying to hype a fight with misplaced machismo. Everything is relative, and blood in a boxing ring will never be worth much more than a shrug to Berto. He has seen things so much worse, so much more chilling.

He got the phone call around 6 on the night of Jan. 12, 2010. He was home in Florida, training for the biggest fight of his career, a Jan. 30 matchup with Shane Mosley in Las Vegas. It was to be his moment to emerge, as well as his first big payday. Berto was 25-0 with 19 knockouts, he held the WBC welterweight title, and now he had a bout against one of boxing's bigger names.

But the phone call told him that the country he considered home, for which he had boxed in the 2004 Olympics, had been hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Haiti was now a land of devastation.

"I tried to keep my routine, to keep training," Berto said. "But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I just kept watching it on CNN."

After three days, he knew it was no use. This was the country where his parents had been born before bringing five of the six children to Winter Haven, Fla., to live. He had visited Haiti just a few months earlier. Now, his father's brother and seven others in that family were gone — "crushed by the concrete of his house," Berto said. His older sister, Naomi, and her daughter were missing for three days before they were found — safe, but homeless.

Boxing seemed trivial, Mosley suddenly insignificant. And everybody understood when he withdrew from the fight and headed to Haiti to help.

He and his brother, Cleveland, joined a group called Project Medishare. Four days after the earthquake, they boarded a plane and headed into a world of destruction and devastation that Berto said he will never forget.

"It was all dust and rubble," he said. "There was house after house, just crushed to the ground. It felt like I had walked into a war zone. It was a nightmare, a completely different place."

He said there were still sounds of people, buried under the rubble, crying for help.

"It was worse at night," he said.

Project Medishare brought doctors and medical equipment from the United States, and so Berto headed for the huge medical tent to help, not the least bit prepared for what was ahead.

"I walked in, dropped my bags and went to work," he said. "There was no choice."

The giant tent was filled with injured people, most of them severely wounded. Before he knew it, he was doing things and seeing things he never could have imagined.

He saw a man bring his daughter in to be treated.

"She looked like she was OK, not even injured," Berto said. "But then she went into cardiac arrest, was revived three times by doctors and then passed away. Her father held onto my shirt and couldn't let go. He said she was all he had in his life."

Berto did the unthinkable. He carried the bodies of babies to ditches to be buried. He participated as doctors performed amputations with no anesthetics.

"I had to hold 4- and 5-year-olds while they were doing some of the amputations," he said. "I have it on video."

He doesn't point to the video as proof that he did it, but as evidence — more for himself than anybody who might view it — that it happened.

Berto told BoxingInsider.com that a little girl tugged at him as he walked past in the hospital tent and asked if he could help, because her leg hurt. He pulled back the sheet and saw that the leg had been amputated.

He went out with groups trying to rescue people still screaming from beneath the rubble.

"We pulled one lady out alive," he said, "and an hour later she delivered a baby."

He returned home after about 10 days. He said that many of the doctors who volunteered to go to Haiti and worked nonstop once there could not bear to remain there and also had to leave.

Berto said he has not returned to Haiti. He got a house in the countryside, away from the center of the chaos in Port-au-Prince, for his sister. He said he will go back, after the Ortiz fight Feb. 11 in Las Vegas, where a victory against Ortiz would avenge his only loss. He said he hopes the Medishare people will be able to help him find the woman they pulled out of the wreckage so he can see her baby.

It will take years for Haiti to fully recover. Same with Andre Berto.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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