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Haiti earthquake: Missing Mexican teacher found, thanks to Times reporter

January 19, 2010 |  2:22 pm

Newspapers in Mexico this morning carried a happy item about Mexican officials in Haiti finding one of their countrymen who had been missing in the ruins for nearly a week.

But the tale didn’t mention that it was Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson who came across the victim and relayed his whereabouts to Mexican diplomatic officials here in Mexico City.

Carlos Peralta, a Spanish teacher living in Port-au-Prince, lay writhing in pain on a salvaged pew outside a church when Wilkinson found him Sunday while she was reporting on prayer services in the quake-ravaged city.

Peralta’s ribs were hurt and his leg and face were bandaged and stained purple with a commonly used disinfectant. He had been inside the school where he taught when the quake knocked it down.

“There is no food, no water, no medicine,” Peralta told Wilkinson at the time. “I see helicopters. I see journalists. But I don’t see aid.”

Wilkinson, an award-winning journalist who is the paper’s Mexico City bureau chief, filed her notes from the day, though the Peralta interview didn’t make it into the story. Early Monday, she sent an e-mail asking the Times’ Mexico City bureau researcher, Cecilia Sánchez, to tell Mexico’s foreign ministry where it could find Peralta, whose family had reported him missing.

Sanchez did and, hours later, the foreign ministry called back to say thanks: Mexican officials in Haiti had found Peralta and ushered him to a field hospital for care.

The government promptly issued a press release on the rescue, but didn’t mention the role of a certain intrepid Times reporter. Peralta, 38, with a broken leg and detached retina, was expected to be flown back to Mexico as soon as today. He told Mexican media that his Haitian wife is still missing. 

-- Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City