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Rabih Torbay, International Medical Corps.

Raw Account of Relief Operations from the Frontlines in Port Au Prince, Haiti

Sunday, 17 January 2010 00:00

From Bridge Foundation's advance team led by Jon Pageler and Barry Brown.

Very long day. Made much longer by the fact that oversized military craft were idling next to us all night. Not just idling, but since things were moving so fast they never powered down. Some of the guys found an open door to the jetway so we built our fort with the remaining bags of rice under and slept there. They seemed much more rested than us. They are sleeping there now.

 

Most of the 20 some tons of food and 'Ensure' from our first airlift have been distributed. The remaining 50kg bags of rice and beans will go the University Hospital and one or two other places today. The orphanage where the first shipment went seems to be doing well.

The pace of the military plane arrivals slowed dramatically during the day but is beginning to pick up again. I can't imagine that things will be as intense as last night however. Lots of private aid charters are coming in. Rented 727s and old 707s by aid organizations and some governments. Other governments have either brought in 767 freighters or used their military planes.

Many countries are here. Dom Rep, Nederlands, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, UK – to name just a few. Tomorrow we will take a picture of their base camps with their color coded tents and uniforms. The news media is all here as well. Diane, Greta, Sanjay, Anderson, Katie, even Geraldo...

As we predicted last night based on the cargo of all the planes coming in, search and rescue (and security) was the emphasis of the day. Although we also understand that cleaning up the streets and removing the dead was a high priority as well.

Bodies are stacked like cordwood in the streets as families work to recover their loved ones. Some are collected in trucks for mass burials, others taken lovingly for private burial. I have tears in my eyes as I'm writing this. Clearly some of the heavy equipment brought in last night was used for that.

Our day was mostly an airport day. We had a good run of dispersals although things seemed to start a bit late because security. Combine island time with poor to non-existant telecommunications and, well, you get the picture. We had many pick-ups scheduled but given the emerging story line of aid not getting to victims we were hesitant to let goods sit visible for too long. Our encampment is directly in media row. But by noon we were loading World Food Program trucks in bucket brigade fashion, enabling us to move nearly 15 tons of materials in just over an hours time, all the while with cameras blazing, albeit mostly foreign press. The shot was one of the few "shots of the day" that is until Hilary came in. Once the trucks were loaded we travelled via convoy to the UN compound and home to the WFP's distribution center for inventory and repackaging. We will be making deliveries tomorrow, and try to help the affected families of local NGO workers. The Bridge Foundation has worked with the WFP before, both in Kabul and Bagdad and they have proven to be a great partner in these situations.

After meeting with and being thanked by the management of WFP, we hustled back to the airport to meet the plane with the WHO emergency medical kits and other supplies and to complete the final disbursements. Some went to the Haitian Red Cross, some to a local hospital that we will visit tomorrow, and some to the Haitian Learning for Life program. And while all of these were impactful there was one dispersement that seemed to stand out.

Early in the evening the night before we got word of an orphanage that was really in need. We had directions and drivers at the ready to get us there but at the last minute the orphanage pulled the plug. They felt that the situation outside the gates was too severe to risk bringing food in, despite the dire need of the children. Then we heard that CNN did a profile piece on the orphanage's situation and soon after our attempts to communicate with them became extremely difficult. Their email was jammed and the already hopeless cell service had become non existent. But our Bridge Foundation cohorts back in Miami managed to get things back on track and after many fits and starts they managed to get a driver down to us. You could see the look of appreciation on their faces – they brought several volunteers to help load the truck. Hopefully we will be able to visit that orphanage at some point in the future.

Today we had a famous visitor and Bridge and our splendid partner Diageo were part of the receiving line when Sec of State Hilary Clinton deboarded her Coast Guard C-17, a very odd looking plane with a sort of bulbous, pug nose. And while our being there was less about invitation then it was about coincidence, Hilary clearly knew who we were and did not seem surprised to see us. (Although she may have whispered to her advance team "who let the grubby guy with the T-shirt and hat into the receiving line?")

Hilary's arrival, while I imagine it helped bring continued focus on the suffering here in Haiti, unfortunately caused a temporary closure of the airport, just at the time when our plane with another WHO med kit was attempting to land. The plane diverted to Santa Domingo, and only a short time ago (after 8 hours), landed on the opposite side of the tarmac. I'm not sure which was more fun, arguing with customs in a language we don't speak or riding the fork lift back to our staging area with the two pallets of emergency health kits.

At the airport, things have been changing. Water has begun to flow much more freely. Until early this evening everyone on the tarmac, including military personnel were on the hunt for water but then all of a sudden it just seemed that pallets of it were available everywhere.

On the outbound side we've seen convoys of stretchers being walked into planes. Clearly they are moving the wounded to better hospitals. The search and rescue teams are back but they have their own camp on the other end of the airport from us, where we are planning to camp tomorrow night when the others arrive. But more on that tomorrow.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone supporting Bridge's relief efforts in Haiti. We love you and could not do it without you.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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