Port-au-Prince Travel Blog› entry 2 of 10 › view all entries
At 6:30 AM it was quite warm already, at least compared to what I had been accustomed to. I was up immediately and took a walk around part of the airport. There was structural damage to the buildings in some places, but overall they were in much better shape than I was expecting. Throngs of people from around the island were showing up at the airport, most of them held back behind security fences. And within the airport grounds, it reminded me of a colony of ants…people and vehicles going to and fro, everyone seemingly with an agenda. There were mass amounts of reporters and journalists, emergency rescue teams, military personnel from different countries, and teams of volunteers from just about every humanitarian organization I’ve ever heard of.
After a cup of cold, black coffee and a granola bar I gathered with the others at our control center and received detailed instructions of what we would be doing. I was teamed up with 12 others, three supply trucks, a Haitian UN guide, and an attachment of UN security. About half of our group was trained emergency medical workers. We were to be going to a certain part of the city on the south side but those orders changed just as we were leaving. Apparently the main road we would be taking was not cleared. And after a delay of more than an hour we finally was given a new location in the north east part of the city, closer to the airport and near several orphanages. Sometime around 8:30 we were pulling out of the airport.
Taking in the scenery of the mountains that wrapped around about two-thirds of the city,
At one point we came to a standstill because of other traffic ahead of us. People began closing in around us, obviously wanting food and water. Deciding to suppress what could become a ‘situation’, we began unloading cases of water from the rear truck and tossing out bottles of water as fast as possible. The people were taking them faster than we could get them out. We did this for about 10 minutes until the street ahead was cleared. After what seemed like an eternity of getting no where, our convoy then took a turn onto another street that proved to be much easier to drive through…until we reached the road that was going to get us back on track to our destination; and that road was completely blocked with debris.
Shortly afterwards, as we discussed our next move, a small team from Red Cross alerted us to an area about 10 blocks away in the opposite direction where a large orphanage was located. Since we couldn’t turn around and we couldn’t go in the direction we wanted, we didn’t have a choice. Minutes later, as we approached our new destination, it became abundantly evident that things were getting worse on this route. Two and three story concrete buildings were collapsed on top of themselves on both sides of the street, bodies that had been recovered were laid everywhere, and scores of people seemed to be just wandering aimlessly. This scene was just about as hopeless as you could imagine.
There were no emergency rescue teams, no police, and no presence of any officials or medical staff anywhere. We had suddenly become the savior for these people and they began approaching from all directions begging for help. This was one of those moments I had wondered how I would respond, but other than all of this being extremely surreal and like a blur to me as we stepped out of the trucks, the only thing I could feel was adrenaline. The medics and our Haitian UN guide spoke with one person who apparently was involved with the orphanage. Their immediate job now was to attend to some seriously injured children. The rest of us began sorting and pulling provisions from the trucks as the UN security did their best to keep people from crowding us and from looting the supplies.
About an hour into our operation, a rescue team from
There were just so many images to describe from that long afternoon, and even if I wanted to describe them here, I don’t think I would have the vocabulary to do it. Dispersing water, food, and basic medical supplies was only the beginning. The rest of the day we spent listening and looking for people in the rubble, transporting the wounded into the trucks, and gathering any children who needed medical care or who were without a guardian. By dusk we were pulling away hoping against all odds of finding someplace to take the survivors where they could get the urgent treatment they needed. When we reached the airport two more temporary operating rooms had been set up and more doctors had also arrived from all parts of the world. But there were still many wounded and dying people just lying on the ground outside of the hospital tents where their rescuers had left them. We had no choice but to do the same. Sadly, about half of the 25 or so victims we brought to the airport that first evening didn’t make it through the night.
We did get rooms to sleep in about 10 miles from the airport that night, but lying down and trying to sleep proved not too easy, even as exhausted as I was. I just couldn’t clear my mind and forget the events of that day. And about 10 minutes after I did lie down, there was a pretty strong after shock that sent all of us racing to get outside. It wasn’t anything to really be alarmed about. The building we were in was constructed much more stable than most in