Bruised, battered but alive, the eight American college kids raced through the chaotic, crumbling streets of Port-au-Prince, buffered by armed Americans and pumps of adrenaline.
Their destination was the U.S. ambassador's residence, some two miles from where they had been moments before, poolside at the Hotel Montana, thinking of dinner, writing in journals. Tuesday's 7.0-earthquake shook everything, from the ground below their feet to the collapsing roof of the hotel. Ten feet closer and they would have been inside the building.
"We had to cut through woods, bushwack it, because houses were on roads," said Tom Schloemer, 20, one of eight Lynn University students rescued from a January-term school trip to help feed Haiti's poor, speaking with reporters on Saturday afternoon. "We had to sprint through certain areas because it was so dangerous. Debris was everywhere."
Heavy on their minds were those they were forced to leave to behind, four fellow students and two faculty members from the Florida school, all believed to be inside the building when the earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. local time.
One of those is Stephanie Crispinelli, a graduate of Somers High School, Class of 2008, and friend of Schloemer and Nikki Fantauzzi, a second student who spoke with reporters about her experiences.
Crispinelli remains missing, but if anyone has the fortitude to withstand such forces of destruction, it's Stephanie, they said.
"She'll do anything she can to fight and to make it," said Fantauzzi, 26, of Simsbury, Conn. "She is a joy. She's one of our good friends and she's done a similar trip like this before."
Like many on the five-day mission, which was to work with the aid group Food for the Poor, Crispinelli was dedicated to giving her time and energy to those less fortunate.
"She's great with kids and just great all around," said Fantauzzi.
A Facebook page created by Crispinelli's friends has grown to more than 1,800 members.
Hope remains strong among the students and university officials that Crispinelli and the five other missing members of the group of 14 original travelers will be found alive.
The university announced Saturday morning they were redoubling rescue efforts at the Hotel Montana and making progress on the ground in the Dominican Republic sifting among information on the stream of evacuees from Haiti making their way back home. The new team of rescue workers were on a morning flight to Port-au-Prince armed with infrared technology and other light equipment, school officials said.
Food For The Poor's Missions and Travel Director Leann Chong was among those who have been pulled from the rubble of a hotel alive. Chong had lain trapped for 17 hours beneath 3-feet of concrete, chin tucked and face to the floor, the aid group said. It's believed that 200 remain in the building.
The students' story of survival was just as raw, each detail painting a situation of utter chaos. "People running up the hill, people running down the hill, people not running because they are deceased on the ground," Schloemer said.
It was by sheer luck they found the woman now dubbed "Mom," Angela Chaiener, an American official working in Haiti who was having a dinner meeting at the hotel. She urged them to drink water — one sip every hour — and helped them get through the heart-pounding sprint to the ambassador's residence and then arranged for their journey of escape to continue onto the U.S. Embassy, all eight packed into a Trailblazer.
"Four in the trunk," Schloemer said.
The bond between the students kept them strong. Schloemer and Fantauzzi told of having to move outside the embassy walls after another earthquake scare. The group of eight shared a single sheet as they slept outside, they said.
And, Schloemer said, "We are sharing water bottles still."
The students were evacuated on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and then on to U.S. soil.
They planned to stay on campus again Saturday night in solidarity with the families of those missing. They will wait for news about Crispinelli, Courtney Hayes, 23, of Douglas, Ga.; Britney Gengel, 19, of Rutland, Mass.; Christine Gianacaci, 22, of Hopewell, N.J., and faculty members Dr. Richard Bruno, 59, and Patrick Hartwick, 53, both of Boca Raton.
They are all family now.
"We have ... to stick it out together," Schloemer said.