'Unshaken' Quake Survivor Rises from the Ruins

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It's been one year since a powerful earthquake rocked Haiti, Jan. 12, 2010, killing more than 200,000 people.

In the middle of the tragedy, there were amazing stories of survival. Dan Woolley's rescue from the ruins of the collapsed Hotel Montana made headlines around the world.

Woolley's work with Compassion International brought him to Port au Prince to capture pictures and stories of the organization's work with poor mothers, struggling to hold their families together.

He arrived in Haiti one day before the deadly earthquake.

Woolley's Goodbye Letter

Blood stained pages of Woolley's journal reflect his most desperate moments after the quake hit. The entries were written after he was literally buried alive beneath Hotel Montana.

"If found, please give to my wife Christina. I love you. I have never stopped loving you or even slowed down," he wrote. "I love Josh and Nathan, the joy and pride of my life... I was in a big accident. Don't be upset at God. He always provides for His children. I am still praying that God will get me out."

Dan Woolley is back in Haiti on the first anniversary of the country's massive earthquake. Woolley discussed Haiti's progress and how God is working to restore the tiny island nation on the CBN News Channel’s Midday News. Click here to watch the interview.

Woolley's trip to Haiti offered him an escape, exciting work, and relaxing accommodations.

"I never could have predicted that this would be such a dividing line in my life," he told CBN News. "Really, now I look at this as life before this and life after this."

Strained Relationships

The father of two was leaving a personal struggle behind. His marriage was strained.

"It's not that we didn't care for each other anymore. It's just that we had allowed the business of life and the challenges of life to get in the way of the true deep intimacy that we use to have," Woolley explained.

Though he grew up a Christian, the business of life dwindled another key relationship -- with God.

"There had been a cooling off between me and God," he said. "And the priority that I feel my faith needs to have in my life just wasn't there."

Life-Changing Seconds

The earthquake hit at exactly 4:53 p.m. Woolley and his colleague David Haynes had just returned to the hotel lobby, where the floor rumbled beneath them.

"I had debris hitting me from all sides. From the back, something struck my head and I had a big gash on my head," Woolley recalled. "Then things hit both sides of my legs and then something passed right by my face. Instantly, within three seconds, the hotel had collapsed, and went from vibrant color to complete darkness."

"I actually wonder at first if I am dead," he continued. "I think, 'Maybe this is it, and I have passed on.'"

In the darkness, Woolley could feel his camera around his neck. He began taking pictures, using the flash to see his surroundings.

"At one point I take a picture of the elevator car and I realize now that looks like a safer place that I could get to," he said.

In time, Woolley freed himself from the rubble and climbed into the tiny elevator car. He hoped someone would find him, but wondered what would happen if no one did.

Reconnecting with God

"I was very concerned about that -- what is it going to be like when I face my Creator?" Woolley said. "[I knew] how my heart had cooled and how my life had turned away from God in many ways."

"I just, right there, just came to God with everything," he continued. "With nothing hidden and nothing held back. While I was doing that, I heard a voice in my head say, 'You are mine.'"

That voice gave him peace as hours of waiting turned into days. He then began writing that letter to his family.

Will to Survive

"Even though I had settled things with God, and settled my heart with God, I still didn't feel like it was my time to go," Woolley continued. "And I still had real concerns for my family."

He wanted to survive, and found himself worshiping God in the tiny elevator car. After nearly three days in the underground darkness, he became desperate.

"I decided to give up and so I crawled out of the elevator and was just laying on the rubble," he recalled. "And it was at that moment in the shaft above my elevator that I saw the head lamp of my rescuer as he came down and he said, 'I am coming for you. We are going to get you out of there.'"


The story of Woolley's "rise from the ruins" played around the world. His partner Haynes did not survive.

Woolley paid tribute to his colleague in his new book Unshaken, which shares his story of survival underground, and his new life on solid ground.

"I think the earthquake saved the life that God meant for me," Woolley said. "He had pursued me to the bottom of this collapsed hotel because he wanted all of me."

*Original broadcast January 12, 2011.

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CBN News
Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.