Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sorry for no posts

First thanks for all of the comments and emails. I and my team are safe sound secure and comfortably ensconced at the Salvation Army orphanage. We got here this after noon (more on that later) and were issued a five man tent and wonder of wonder foam sleeping pads. Brian told me 'you only takes us to the five star resorts Rick.' I think he was joking.

This will be a very long posts and I probably will have to finish it tomorrow I am beat.

I left Santo Domingo on Monday morning with 40 others on a chartered bus. I kept giving my flight seats to medical staff so Vegar at the UN center at SDQ said go on up Rick that's why you came.

172 miles in a blazing 12.5 hours. We got away late. We had 30 NGO, government and volunteer aid workers. It was going to be 40 but five minutes before the flight a Russian Mil 8 helicopter became available so we sent a trauma team up in that. With the cleared seats we went around the terminal to find Haitians who were trying to get home to find and/or bury family and we took them along. What a resilient people this community is. Hundreds of years of tragedy and the smile all the time and sing constantly.

We were the last vehicle across the border as it closed for the night at 7 PM. Scary, scary road the last 80 miles. One loan gravel washed out half the time and lots of semis moving up. The folks on the bus were giving me a hard time because the goods we had landed at SDQ were clogging it up.

Drive through all of PaP at night and that was an interesting experience; let's leave it at that.

Got to the airport where there is a tent city of maybe 5,000 first responders and some rather humongous field hospitals. 82nd Airborne owns that and the passed us in and told us to grab a patch of dirt. It was so late when the bus unloaded we had to stay there and get to the Salvation Army in the morning. Ha HA. Spent most of th enight chatting with various responder groups and settling down. I really should have gotten a sleeping pad but two JetBlue blankets on the hardpan were enough. I actually slept six or seven hours.

Woke up in the morning intending to go out the gate and get a tap-tap owned by Mathew; a young Hatian man from the bus. He hadn't heard from his family since the quake and had come to find or bury. We had spent hours talking with him and he asked to join our mission after that family stuff was done.

We got him out with Michael very early. Two hours later they showed back all smiles everyone was OK. AND Mathew's brother owns two tap-taps and was coming to pick us up at the compound gate.

We got to the gate when he cell phoned and there were maybe (estimating) 8,000 starving people beggin for water and food. We talked and I made an executive decision that if we walked out with our packs we might create a situation where lots of Haitians (and us!) could get hurt. Back in to the gate.

I ran into a Red Cross worker and asked her to drive us to the UN compound two miles away, all inside the walled airport complex. She looked at my tee shirt (SA emergency response services) and said absolutely not. Gotta love it.

So get this those hwo know me: 53 years old not exactly an exercise freak humping an 80 pound pack two miles in blowing dust next to the actibve runway; C 17s cycling ever 10 minutes or so and the occasional big honking Russian Anatov. Bye the way the flow cranked up measurably in the hours we were at the complex.

Long long afternoon at UN Port-au-Prince. Office to office to office and no joy; the uN folks were great just do not have capacity to handle any NGOs. We did have a fantastic meal at the UN cafeteria. I decided to try Mathew's brother again when I check the exit and no crowds, no mobs no risk. Mathew set it up and it happened; we were at the orphanage in 25 minutes. Mathew is a God send: brilliant, tri-lingual, finishing a PhD in electrical engineer. Best thing of all he is a two degree, soon to be three degree, Seminole.

Got here and checked in with Bob Poff who had invited me. Get through some SA politics, got issued a tent and told we are activated at Noon tomorrow.

The scene: The orphanage is at the center of the damage zone. The trip here is as reported in the media I do not care to describe it.

This is an urban multi building complex. Half the buildings are unusable th eother half are occupied. We have a damage assesment engineering crew going out tomorrow and they won't go in most of the buildings that ocntinue to be occupied by orphans.

The parking lots, yards, assembly areas and everywhere else has tents set up and families. I am writing this in the courtyard listening to domino games and children singing and laughter and happiness. This evening I held a new born, I believe born here after the quake. Brian ran around patching cuts and scrapes and getting a lifetime of smiles in return.

There is security here but not really needed. It's a locked compound but the community loves these folks I think and Mathew agrees we are in one of the safest places in Haiti.

There is a large contingent of SA experts and commanders here now. They have a crisis command post in the main office. Six laptops doing all kinds of stuff but no Internet. Tomorrow we set up the Began 0.5 MB uplink I brought and they will be able to communicate outside.

Once we get here and I checked in the three site commanders had a planning session. They have wanted to get out and do needs assessments in there various satellite communities. The logistics of driving out, assessing and bringing data back prevented that action. Now that supplies are trickling in (and it is a trickle) the plan is to send me and my team with SA experts. We will do various assessments (security; food/water; habitation and medical. We will do any first aid we can the damage to this entire population is staggering, sobering and distressing. We will sat phone that in (we have two) and move on. Hoping to get two or three sites a day.

We have escorts and we are in marked relief vehicles so security will be good. It's thrilling to be able to go this work.

That's all for tonight I am wiped. I am sorry for the ramble and promise to clear up any holes tomorrow. Two full days to travel 178 miles. Next time I will take that chopper offer.

Sorry I could not release posts I am reconfiguring comments so that I do not have to release them.

Andree was very concerned about my mental health and how I would react to the more distressing sights, sounds and smells. Sure it is distressing but I am in great shape and so are the others.

Thanks to all for the mails and love; wish you all were as lucky as I am to be here.


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I welcome comments, questions or anything anyone wishes to post on the situation in Haiti.