Sunday, January 17, 2010

Miracles Among the Mayhem

The mayhem and misery is pervasive and overwhelming, but there are intermittent reminders that the human spirit and the will to live can overcome the death that awaited all too many Haitians in the course of the earthquake and its aftermath. There continue to be rescues of survivors from amid the rubble, but the numbers rescued will continue declining the more time passes.
British rescue workers have freed two more earthquake victims from the rubble in Port au Prince today as disorder grows on the streets of the Haitian capital and aid sits undistributed.

A rescue team from Rapid UK used hammers and chisels as they spent six hours digging a 39-year-old woman out from under the ruins of her collapsed home.

Dan Cooke, a Wiltshire firefighter, said: “There was a woman yesterday under three or four floors of concrete squashed in with dead members of her family. That was a hammer and chisel job and it took six hours before the doctor assigned to our team took her to hospital.”

Meanwhile rescuers from Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) said today they reached a man after seven hours of tunnelling. He had been thrown out of his bed by the earthquake and ended up underneath it, which protected him and helped him to survive. After being rehydrated he recovered well and was treated for minor injuries.
An 80-member team from the NYPD/FDNY have also made rescues from the rubble.  A makeshift hospital has been set up at the airport by the UN, given that hospital facilities throughout the city are so badly damaged.

Meanwhile, anger at the US over its handling of the airport at Port au Prince has turned into a diplomatic row as the French have lodged a complaint that alleges that the US is putting flights of repatriated Haitian Americans ahead of those of other countries. Aid is arriving in Haiti, but it's stalling because of the precarious security situation and that getting to the far reaches of the city is difficult when streets remain impassible and bodies are strewn everywhere. Complaints over the fact that the Americans were landing troops and not humanitarian aid were made as well, even though it's those troops who will be able to clear the roads, rebuild infrastructure, and get the humanitarian aid to where it has to go.
The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.

“There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. “But most of those flights are for the United States military.

He added: “Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.”

American officials said they were making substantial progress. Mrs. Clinton said the military was beginning to use a container port in Cap Haitien, in northern Haiti, which should increase the flow of aid.

The United States Agency for International Development was helping choose sites and clear roads for 14 centers for the distribution of food and water. Rajiv Shah, the agency’s administrator, said the United States had moved $48 million of food supplies from Texas since the quake and distributed 600,000 packaged meals. It has also installed three water-purification systems capable of purifying 100,000 liters a day.

Yet problems remain. American officials said that 180 tons of relief supplies had been delivered to the airport, but much was still waiting for delivery. While the military has cleared other landing sites for helicopters around the capital, they are thronged by people looking for help, making landings hazardous.
In other words, the military presence is absolutely critical to keeping the humanitarian relief workers from being completely overwhelmed by Haitians in need, and to control the situation, but the complaints are coming nonetheless.

Hospitals are in dire need of all manner of equipment and material, and it's slow in coming:

Hospitals, or what was left of them, have also been turned into dumping grounds for the bodies of those killed, and the numbers keep stacking up.  Teams of health workers are going throughout the city, but they're overwhelmed by the sheer numbers; one group was working in the Champs du Mars, which is on the grounds of the wrecked national palace, and tens of thousands of people are camped there with many requiring medical attention for all manner of injury.

A group of Belgian doctors was forced to leave a field hospital because of the precarious security situation.
The decision left CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta as the only doctor at the hospital to get the patients through the night.

CNN initially reported, based on conversations with some of the doctors, that the United Nations ordered the Belgian First Aid and Support Team to evacuate. However, Belgian Chief Coordinator Geert Gijs, a doctor who was at the hospital with 60 Belgian medical personnel, said it was his decision to pull the team out for the night. Gijs said he requested U.N. security personnel to staff the hospital overnight, but was told that peacekeepers would only be able to evacuate the team.

He said it was a "tough decision" but that he accepted the U.N. offer to evacuate after a Canadian medical team, also at the hospital with Canadian security officers, left the site Friday afternoon. The Belgian team returned Saturday morning.
And while the situation in Port au Prince is dire, areas outside the capital are in even worse shape as relief efforts haven't begun to assess those areas in any significant way.

Everyone has to bear in mind that there's no real functioning government, the UN is a shell of its former self as several of its top officials in Haiti were killed, its own infrastructure was destroyed in the quake, and it's trying to coordinate a relief effort in a failed country where the government's own feeble infrastructure was devastated in much of the same way as everyone else affected by the quake.

Coordination is the biggest problem; the US has the airlift capabilities to drop aid packages to anywhere in the country, but aid that's arriving isn't under its control and various organizations and NGOs need to coordinate their activities so that the aid can get out to the Haitian people. What aid was brought in on the USS Carl Vinson has already been dispensed, which means that the sooner the coordinating activities get sorted out, the sooner aid being delivered to the airport can be shipped out.

Now, there are questions over whether Wyclef Jean's charity is one that people should be donating to given lax accounting standards and its inability to direct most of the money donated to charitable work and not to administrative costs. Those are questions that should have been asked before his charity was included among lists that highlighted reputable charities that can and do get the aid where it has to go in an effective manner.

Meanwhile, an evacuee from Haiti was responsible for triggering a security alarm at JFK Airport when he went through an alarmed door to a restricted area.
Jules Bouloute, 57, slipped through a door leading to a restricted area at about 3:25 p.m., setting off an alarm and causing an evacuation of Terminal 8, officials said.

Bouloute - who sources said was returning to his Brooklyn home from Haiti days after Tuesday's deadly earthquake - was charged with criminal trespass, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.

Captured on surveillance cameras, Bouloute was seen leaving a plane that had arrived from Orlando, Fla., sources said.
Triage and care for patients under these conditions is quite different than what you'd find in the developed world where hospitals have all the necessary equipment and materials necessary for surgical procedures.In fact, it's reminiscent of the situation facing doctors who went to Sudan and other war-torn regions that had a lack of basic services and the risk of violence was lurking in the background. It's under conditions like this that doctors with experience in providing care under these circumstances are most needed, and Doctors Without Borders is among the best there is. Yet, the group reports that one of its planes was prevented from landing at the airport and rerouted to the Dominican Republic, delaying its response. A second plane was on the way, and hopefully this one will be allowed to land.

Presidents Clinton and Bush get together for a PSA to raise funds for the Haiti relief efforts:

Meanwhile, more video is showing the dire conditions at hospitals in Haiti:

Here's more information on texting donations to the Red Cross, and how the various cell phone companies are working to streamline the process.

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