SALIDA -- Lisa Birch still waits for the return of her husband from earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Jim Birch had been in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince about three hours when the magnitude 7.0 temblor struck Jan. 12, leveling his hotel.
In the first week after the quake, Lisa Birch clung to the hope that her husband was alive, trapped in the rubble. Now she waits for her husband's remains.
"We need to have him returned to us so we can have that closure," she said Wednesday. "So he's not lost to us."
Birch said authorities have told her that her husband is one of 17 U.S. citizens believed to be in the wreckage of the 145-room Hotel Montana.
"There is a slight miracle someone could still be alive in there," she said, "but they are telling us there isn't."
The quake's death toll has reached as high as 200,000, according to many estimates.
As of Wednesday morning, 75 U.S. citizens have been confirmed dead, State Department spokesman Andy Laine said. Officials are trying to identify the remains of 21 other people believed to be U.S. citizens.
Laine said he did not have any information regarding the Hotel Montana.
The State Department also is resolving about 4,000 reports from family and friends of loved ones believed to be in Haiti. Laine said that doesn't mean that 4,000 U.S. citizens are missing in Haiti.
Jim Birch, 50, was in Port-au-Prince on a business trip with three colleagues. He worked as an independent contractor for New York-based LandTek, which was talking with the Haitian government about building schools and sports complexes.
Birch started working with Land- Tek in April because the recession dried up work for his business renovating and building golf courses. He wasn't supposed to make the trip to Haiti but filled in at the last moment when his boss couldn't go.
One colleague, John Scarboro of Georgia, escaped from the rubble. He had been in his fifth-floor hotel room when the quake struck.
But Scarboro's son-in-law Dave Apperson, LandTek employee Joe Guercia and Jim Birch did not.
Lisa Birch talks almost daily with Apperson's wife and Guercia's daughter. "We've made our own little fam- ily," she said.
She said Guercia's family was notified Saturday that his remains had been identified.
Birch said she and other U.S. families with loved ones believed to be trapped in the Hotel Montana are getting regular updates through State Department conference calls.
The calls include officials with the U.S. government, United Nations and other organizations with people on the ground in Port-au-Prince, she said.
"The search and rescue teams were on site (the Hotel Montana) as of Tuesday," she said. "But basically, it's a recovery operation at this time."
The Birches have been married for 14 years and have a 9-year-old daughter, Megan, a fourth-grader at Dena Boer Elementary School in Salida.
Birch said her daughter returned to school this week, and the two are trying to have as normal a life as possible under tragically abnormal circumstances.
"We still are trying to get a routine going," she said. "It could take a couple of weeks before they find him.
"We are taking baby steps, as hard as it is. He would want us to do it, to keep living our lives. I have to show her, 'If Mommy can do it, you can do it.' "
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.