Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Deployment

Okay, so Dominican Republic and Haiti-- I was there and have returned safely. Here's the story.

Two Wednesdays ago and with about 7 hours notice, I was on my way to the airport. I was a part of an 8 person team sent to look for citizens who may need help leaving the country. What do I need to bring, will my Cipro prescription work even though it has expired, I've trained for this but what am I getting into?

Thursday was spent in Santo Domingo. We began the process of contacting those who had been reported as missing. This proved difficult because phone lines were down, but it was amazing how much we were able to do through email and text messages. Simultaneously, we were working our contacts to get the team and all of our gear onto a plane heading for Port-au-Prince.

We were told that we should prepare to be completely self sufficient. This was no joke! We had to bring shelter, food, water (for drinking, cooking and maybe bathing in 95 degree heat), communications gear, clothes, medicine, and, and, and... There was no power or bathroom facilities (the ditch and plastic chair with a hole don't really count!)

The ride in was amazing. Lovely mountains separate Dominican Republic and Haiti.

It wasn't until we got much closer in that you could start to see the people in the streets and the devastation.

Media from around the world had set up just outside the airport building, which had been damaged by the quake. I was amazed to see the fire extinguisher in the foreground of this photo. This used to be a pretty sleepy airport.

The sun set soon after our arrival so the decision was made to camp in the field next to the runway. We set up tents in the dark and were surprised to meet our neighbor first thing the next day.

Between arriving aid workers and departing refugees, the tarmack was always busy and surprisingly open. It was surreal to be walking past giant military planes.

Having never felt an earthquake before, feeling 5 after shocks on Saturday was quite something. The first was a surprise, I was actually getting used to the small ones by numbers 3 and 4. But #5 woke up everyone in the tent. I can only imagine how scary the main quake must have been.

Rescuers and aid workers from all over the world camped near us. These photos are of Brits and Germans. It was joyous when they returned with stories of successful rescues. And you could see the toll that unsuccessful rescue attempts took. But they persevered--through the heat, security concerns and lack of ideal equipment. They efforts were amazing!!

I only left the airport once and the devastation I saw is hard to describe. We've all seen the images on CNN, but to see it in person is something I will never forget. I was particularly struck by a 4 or 5 year old girl I saw sitting on the sidewalk with her younger sister. The older girl was reading a comic book as the little one huddled next to her. Where were their parents? What had they lived through in the previous 5 days?

You could tell the aid effort has been overwhelming. The biggest issues now seem to be how to effectively and quickly distribute the aid and how to rotate aid and medical workers so they can continue to address the huge need that exists. It is my most sincere hope that the international effort remains strong not just through the initial phases of the disaster but also long enough to help the Haitains rebuild and become self sufficient. We must not forget.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recap. Glad you're home safe.

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin - thanks so much for the story and pix - what an experience for you ! So happy you are home.

Aunt Barb

7:52 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

Wow - what a story. Thanks for sharing! So glad you're back!


10:48 AM  
Blogger Anuradha said...

your story brought tears to my eyes. wow, I have been so lucky in my life . . . I really need to appreciate each day.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Images and thoughts you will never forget, and .... none of us should forget. Great to be home, eh. Uncle Larry

8:14 PM  

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