Thursday, January 14, 2010

Desperate Times in Haiti As Relief Efforts Ramp Up

To deal with a catastrophe as dire as the massive 7.0 quake to hit Haiti and which political leaders are warning may have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the US is mobilizing some of its biggest assets.

The USS Carl Vinson is diverting to Haiti to render assistance; it was originally scheduled to relocate to San Diego from its homeport in Norfolk, but that relocation cruise has turned into a humanitarian relief effort. The ship can desalinate 400,000 gallons of water a day, which will be critical given the massive devastation to infrastructure throughout Port au Prince. It's flight deck will provide a launching point for helicopters to go into areas that can't be reached by land vehicles.

Also coming to Haiti's aid is a task force including a Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune, which will also have helicopter capabilities.

Most importantly, the USNS Comfort will be arriving in Haiti within the next few days to deliver medical assistance and augment the devastated medical care system.

The Navy Twitter feed is providing constant updates as to what the Navy and other military units are doing to provide assistance. Already on the scene are several US Coast Guard ships, which are providing air traffic control and other essential services to prepare the port to accept larger ships and begin the process of assisting the people of Haiti.

The US Southern Command is in charge of the US military response to the disaster.

The widespread devastation is hampering relief efforts to try and save those that survived the quake. Many streets are impassible, which makes getting aid and medical assistance to hard hit areas all the more difficult. Shantytowns were especially hard hit as the poor construction meant that the concrete block homes shattered and collapsed with no chance for those inside.

The streets of Port au Prince are lined with the dead. It's not for the faint of heart. (graphic video warning)

Google has before/after photos of Port au Prince so you can see just how badly the region has suffered from the quake. This video also shows a helicopter overflight of the devastation.

It's a race against time to rescue those still trapped in the ruins.

Expat communities of Haitians are devastated; Brooklyn has one of the largest Haitian communities outside the country, and people there are grasping at any shred of hope and word about loved ones and their former homes.

The American Red Cross has pledged $1 million in aid. The British have also pledged millions in aid. Their supplies in Haiti had run out but are again being resupplied as aid flights are now ferrying supplies into the country from the US. The UN is calling on other countries to help mount a humanitarian relief effort. Many UN staff remain unaccounted for, and the top envoy was killed in the quake.

CBS has found video showing the quake striking with a violent up and down motion that lasted several seconds:

Mexico has already dispatched three planes with SAR teams.
They don't get much press coverage in the US media, but Mexico has a very fast disaster response, honed by plenty of experience with hurricanes and earthquakes. Three Mexican Army airplanes carrying a team of disaster specialists has already landed in Port au Prince with 20 tons of supplies. The Mexican hospital ship El Huasteco left port today with more supplies and medical personnel. Another ship, the ARM Papaloapan, is expected to arrive in Haiti by the end of this week.

The personnel shipped out so far consist of about a hundred medical personnel, rescue specialists, engineers and technical personnel,and four rescue dogs and their handlers. These are probably from the Guadalajara Fire Department, the Mexican Red Cross, and Jalisco's Civil Defense Department. Other trained earthquake rescue teams are getting ready to go.

El Huasteco and 77 tons of desperately needed relief supplies was turned back from Haiti last May because of the Haitian government's fear about swine flu. I think they'll get a more enthusiastic reception this week.

Mexico's Recycled Relief Ship Rides Again
In 1992, the US Navy decommissioned the LSTUSS Newport. She was taken out of mothballs and refurbished for the Mexican Navy a few years later. Rechristened the ARM Papaloapan (P-411) in mid-2002, she carried relief supplies from Mexico to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She is currently loading supplies and emergency personnel for the Haitian earthquake relief work. 

From the Los Angeles Times:
An Air China flight landed in Port-au-Prince before daybreak, ferrying a Chinese search-and-rescue team, medical personnel and tons of food and medicine, the Associated Press reported.

Three French planes brought in supplies and a mobile hospital, the news agency reported, and British relief workers arrived next door in the Dominican Republic, an important relay point for the wave of assistance that the world pledged in the wake of Tuesday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
Reports suggest that President Obama has apparently asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to help with Haiti relief efforts. That's similar to the move made by President Bush to ask his father and President Clinton to coordinate efforts during the Southeast Asian earthquake/tsunami relief efforts and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Israel is setting up a field hospital in Haiti.
The party sent to set up the hospital will include 40 doctors and 24 nurses, and is scheduled to leave Thursday evening. The hospital, capable of treating 500 patients, will include an intensive care unit, two operating rooms, a pharmacy, and an X-ray lab.

Search and rescue agents from the Homefront Command will also be included in the party.

Levy said a Home front Command delegation was currently making its way from the Dominican Republic to the quake-struck country.
GM Foundation donating $100k to Haiti relief efforts via the ARC. Others donating include Wells Fargo, Publix, Coca Cola ($1 million), TD Bank, Go Daddy, Kellogg, and UPS, Bank of America, and Kraft.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg talks about the crisis and relief efforts along with how best to render assistance. He warns of scammers trying to take advantage of the situation and to donate to reputable charities. He suggests that monetary donations are the best way to provide aid as the various relief organizations can then obtain the needed items in a more efficient manner:

CBS lists the national responses of various nations:
• The United Nations is releasing $10 million from its emergency funds.
• The United States is sending ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit.
• Canada is sending an immediate $5 million Canadian (US$4.8 million) to the Haitian government and has put transport planes, helicopters, a hospital ship and a disaster response team on standby.
• The Irish telecommunications company Digicel said it would donate $5 million to aid agencies and help repair the damaged phone network.
• The European Commission has approved euro3 million ($4.37 million), with more funds likely.
• Spain has pledged euro3 million ($4.37 million), and sent three planes with rescue teams and 100 tons of emergency relief equipment.
• The Netherlands has donated euro2 million ($2.91 million) and will send a 60-person search-and-rescue team.
• Germany gave euro1.5 million ($2.17 million) and sent an immediate response team. Another team with 20 rescue dogs is on standby.
• Denmark has donated 10 million kroner ($1.9 million).
• Italy is pledging euro1 million ($1.46 million).
• China will donate $1 million, according to Xinhua News Agency.
• Sweden has offered 6 million kronor ($850,000), along with tents, water purification equipment and medical aid.
• Venezuela has sent doctors, firefighters and rescue workers.
• Mexico will send doctors, search-and-rescue dogs and infrastructure damage experts.
• France is sending two planes with doctors, food and medical equipment.
• Britain has sent 64 firefighters with search-and-rescue dogs and 10 tons of equipment.
• Iceland is sending 37 search-and-rescue specialists.
• Taiwan is flying in 23 rescue personnel and 2 tons of aid and equipment.
• Israel is sending an elite army rescue unit, including engineers, rescue workers, doctors and medics.
• Cuba already had field hospitals on the ground when the quake struck.
Curiously, there are no Arab nations on the list of those providing monetary assistance or who have announced that they are sending rescue teams to the region. President Obama has increased the amount of relief aid to $100 million.
I'm also announcing an immediate investment of $100 million to support our relief efforts. This will mean more of the life-saving equipment, food, water and medicine that will be needed. This investment will grow over the coming year as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

The United States of America will also forge the partnerships that this undertaking demands. We will partner with the Haitian people. And that includes the government of Haiti, which needs our support as they recover from the devastation of this earthquake. It also includes the many Haitian Americans who are determined to help their friends and family. And I've asked Vice President Biden to meet in South Florida this weekend with members of the Haitian American community, and with responders who are mobilizing to help the Haitian people.

We will partner with the United Nations and its dedicated personnel and peacekeepers, especially those from Brazil, who are already on the ground due to their outstanding peacekeeping efforts there. And I want to say that our hearts go out to the United Nations, which has experienced one of the greatest losses in its history. We have no doubt that we can carry on the work that was done by so many of the U.N. effort that have been lost, and we see that their legacy is Haiti's hope for the future.

We will partner with other nations and organizations. And that's why I've been reaching out to leaders from across the Americas and beyond who are sending resources to support this effort. And we will join with the strong network of non-governmental organizations across the country who understand the daily struggles of the Haitian people.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have donated $1 million and other celebrities are donating as well. Also, the New York Yankees have donated $500,000 for disaster relief efforts.

MSNBC has an interactive map showing damage to certain key facilities. It shows that there's a toppled crane and other damage to port facilities that will make it difficult to get relief supplies in by sea. Expect the US Navy to have its engineering contingent work to get the port reopened as quickly as possible to enable larger supply convoys to enter the port. Air flights are also being suspended because of limited jet fuel on hand and the tarmac is full at the capital's airport. While the airport control tower was destroyed, the runway is intact, enabling some flights to get in.

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