Sunday, January 17, 2010

Helpless in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- I've been here less than 24 hours but it feels like a week.

There are so many stories here to tell.

I've seen so much.

Today, I went to what was once a 3-story supermarket that completely toppled. People heard a woman screaming from beneath the rubble that she needed water. Dozens of people began digging to find her and any other survivors. The owners of the store were found dead inside; countless other customers are presumed to have met the same fate.

Looking at the rescue effort, the dust swirling in the air as strangers climb on top of the unsteady cement to dig, reminds me of a scene from 9/11.

The confusion.

The despair.

But this is just one building. Imagine this multiplied by hundreds and that is your picture of Haiti right now.

Even when survivors are found beneath the toppled building across Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns, there is nowhere for them to get help. The hospitals are gone, and any remaining Haitian doctors are reluctant to treat these injuries. People are walking in the streets, bandaged and crying for help.

Word spread that there are two nurses from the United States who just happen to be visiting Ruuska Village (where I'm staying). One U.S. citizen, a man whose leg is so badly broken the nurses say he's near death, was brought to the village in the back of a pick-up truck this afternoon. The nurses gave him antibiotics and put a splint on his leg. It helps, but they say if he doesn't have surgery soon, he'll lose his life. The man lost his passport in the rubble, and for now, he can't get back to America.

There are also a lot of injured babies being brought here to the village. One little boy was badly burned from his buttocks to his toes when a pot of oil spilled on him during the 'quake. His mother abandoned him here at the orphanage.

Other children have internal injuries, but there's no way to treat them.

Even those who weren't injured are fighting to survive. So many are poor and homeless here to begin with; now, they truly have nothing. Across Port-au-Prince and the surrounding towns hundreds are living in tent cities. The families making their homes in these public parks that look more like garbage dumps not only lost their homes, they have no food and no access to water. Multiple families share a blanket in the dirt, crumpled next to rotting trash. Flies cover their childrens' faces as they stare blankly ahead.

No one knows what to do.

One woman I spoke with at the tent city said that we were the first people to talk to them who could give them information about what is going on else where in Haiti. The government, they say, is doing nothing. The aid groups, while present, are overwhelmed. Where do you begin with such widespread destruction?

Here in the village, the efforts are multi-faceted. Joe Hurston of AirMobile Ministries, one of the guys I flew here with, is working hard to repair the water filtration systems he has here so the people can have clean drinking water. Barbara, the founder of this village, is trying to keep everyone fed and safe. She runs a home for unwed mothers as well as an orphanage. Some of the babies have already been adopted, but were awaiting visas. Now, she worries they won't ever get them. She's on the phone now trying to get the U.S. to issue emergency visas for the babies so they can be rushed out of Haiti before conditions here worsen. I just overheard her say on the phone, "We have to get them out, while they're still alive."

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