PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Conditions on the ground in Haiti
are very difficult, a member of Southern Baptists’ joint assessment team
reported from Port-au-Prince Jan. 20. A U.S. military commander, however, said
important progress has been made on enlarging the conduit for relief shipments
into the quake-ravaged island nation.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of damage — more so toward the
center of the city,” reported Jim Brown, U. S. director for Baptist Global
Response, in a terse e-mail sent from his cell phone. “We’ve helped with a couple
of deliveries. Helicopters everywhere. People still being found alive!”
In another report, relayed to a meeting of the Southern
Baptist Disaster Relief Network, team member Bruce Poss indicated that traffic
in Port-au-Prince is terrible and milling crowds are making travel and security
serious concerns. He reported seeing 5,000 or more people lined up outside the
US Embassy in the capital.
The five-member team delivered relief supplies — water,
plastic sheeting, bottled gas, beans, rice, eggs, diesel fuel, canned goods —
to a couple of churches and orphanages, Brown said. They were planning to
connect with a Florida Baptist assessment team later in the day.
A U.S. military commander said the flow of relief supplies
into Haiti would be helped by the opening of three new airfields and the
country’s seaport, news services reported. Gen. Douglas Fraser, who heads the
U.S. Southern Command, told the Miami Herald newspaper the capital’s seaport
would reopen Jan. 21 and could accommodate about 150 shipping containers per
day. The port’s capacity is expected to grow to 250 containers per day by Jan.
The main airport in Port-au-Prince, which has one runway and
one loading ramp, has been a bottleneck for the arrival of humanitarian aid,
even after it was reopened. A total of 1,400 flights are backlogged to land at
the airfield, Fraser said. Because congestion on the roads has been hindering
delivery of relief supplies, 63 U.S. helicopters have been dropping water, food
and medical supplies into the most inaccessible areas, he told the newspaper.
The U.S. military has distributed 1.4 million bottles of
water, more than 700,00 meals, and about 22,000 pounds of medical supplies
directly to people in need, Fraser said.
As many as 2 million Haitians are homeless because of the
Jan. 12 earthquake, relief officials say, with vast numbers of people living in
makeshift tents made of sheets and sticks. The estimated death toll stands at
200,000, but humanitarian medical groups warn that number will continue to grow
as people die of untreated injuries and disease that infects the ramshackle
camps, news services report.
Southern Baptist medical personnel who are willing to help
in the relief effort can e-mail [email protected] to register their
availability. Baptist state convention disaster relief offices also will be
organizing teams of volunteers to help once the assessment teams have returned
with strategic recommendations for the response.
The Southern Baptist relief effort, like the one mounted
after Hurricane Katrina and the South Asia tsunami, will be focused on the long
term, Mickey Caison, who directs disaster operations for the North American
Mission Board, told the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network Jan. 20.
Previous strategies have focused on short-term help for people being missed by
large-scale humanitarian projects and a long-term emphasis on helping people
rebuild their lives and communities.