A local reporter sifts through the rubble.
Bloody footprints are scattered along the corridors of the General Melenciano Hospital in Jimaní, a town in the Dominican Republic bordering Haiti. Open wounds are often yellowish and the air bears the heavy smell of rotting flesh. Small children sit wide-eyed, some with a leg or an arm severed. A woman on the floor cries out in Creole for God and her mother. She reaches out to me and I hold her hand as the doctors examine her. The woman’s husband points to her foot and makes the universal sign for scissors. The doctors here refer to the amputations as “guillotine amputations,” because they use a hacksaw and local anesthesia to perform the procedure. The high number of amputations result in part from delay in medical care; crushed and broken bones go untreated to the point where infection sets in and amputations are needed to save patients lives from deadly infections.
It’s Thursday, January 21, nine days after the earthquake hit about 15 miles away in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Survivors continue to arrive on flatbed trucks at the one-story public hospital, hoping for medical treatment unavailable back home in the capital city. Soon after the earthquake hit, Jimaní became the back door route in and out of Haiti for thousands of people making their exodus, and thousands of others, including doctors, aid workers and journalists, trying to get inside the country. I was one of those trying to get in with a group of doctors, nurses and technicians from Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J. I got a call four days earlier from George Norcross, a board member of Cooper. “Susan,” he said, “are you ready to fly south?” Norcross said planes weren’t allowed to land in Port-au-Prince so he was using his company’s private jet to fly a group of doctors to Santo Domingo, in the neighboring Dominican Republic. From there they planned to make their way into Haiti. A newspaper reporter and I were to be embedded with the group.
At the airport we meet Jackie, the woman in charge of putting the doctors on a bus and getting them to a golf resort in Juan Dolio where they’d meet up with more medical staff flying in the next day. Then, they planned to travel by bus to the border town of Jimaní.
“Oooh,” says Jackie, as her looping eye-liner curls up to her temple. “What can I say about Jimaní? It’s Dominican but it’s Haitian, and they are all coming over the border now, it is very bad.” She reports that the prisoners who escaped from the jails of Port-au-Prince are all now hungry hordes at the gates of Jimaní, ready to rush in. “This is not like Mexico after a hurricane,” she says as she scrunches up her nose. “Very bad, very bad.”
Jimaní is a dusty, hot town high up in the mountains. It holds a military base in which a tent city has sprung up. Aid workers, U.N. officials, workers from the World Health Organization, USAID and Dominican soldiers all mix with volunteers in matching T-shirts and shoeless little boys trying to shine hiking boots made of nylon mesh. The little girls dig through the trash for empty water bottles. Later I find out these kids aren’t Dominican; They’re Haitian.
The lead doctors in the group spend several days paralyzed by their security concerns regarding travel into Haiti. They speak of their “intel” and say they won’t go anywhere without a U.N. escort. Once in Jimaní, though, they find plenty to do. Some choose to navigate the chaos at General Melenciano Hospital. They set out mending bones with what they refer to as “X-fixes,”—screws drilled into the bones and set with metal rods. Days after they arrive, the hallways are full of patients lying with what look like erector sets attached to their legs.
Other doctors set up camp at two additional facilities. At the Good Samaritan Hospital about a mile away, children, some without any parents or known relatives, lie on their backs with casts from their ankles to their waists. Their knees are permanently bent in plaster, and a stick keeps the feet apart. A small opening allows them to use a bedpan. Cardboard boxes prop up their feet. Daily dressing changes make grown men cry out in high-pitched, blood-curdling screams. At first, these screams make my stomach turn, but then they become simply a part of the auditory landscape of each day. I ask the patients how they made it to the border town, a two to three hour ride down congested, often pot-holed dirt roads from Port-au-Prince. They all say the same thing—by the grace of God.
About half a mile away, a church has been cleared out, its pews replaced with mattresses. It has become another post-op ward, run by an epidemiologist named Marta Butler. Butler peppers the Cooper team with questions and tells them she could use all the help she could get. Here, an eight-year-old girl is recovering from an above the knee amputation. She looks exhausted from crying. Her mother sits near by with bandages on her head. She feels guilty, she says, because her daughter begged her to go visit her aunt in the countryside just days before the earthquake struck. She had told her daughter no, she had to go to school. A Cooper nurse named Nancy Cadet later says the girl is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time one of the doctors comes close to her, Cadet says, the child thinks they’re going to chop off another part of her body. So she screams for God to help her, while her mother waits outside, weeping.
Back at the military base, helicopters fly in with important-looking people who disappear into one office or another. One day, it’s the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires for the Dominican Republic. There’s a press office set up with electricity, wi-fi, and a flush toilet. It’s a godsend. At night, I sleep out on the heliport, and each morning an armed soldier comes and tells me a chopper is about to land. It looks and sounds like MASH.
Above is the poster for the Philly Rocks for Haiti benefit show we told you about yesterday — feel free to pass it around, tell your friends, get people out for a very important cause (and some really kickass music, too).
WXPN, the Philadelphia Folksong Society, and the Troc are teaming up for the Philly Rocks for Haiti benefit concert at the Troc on Thursday, February 4th starting at 7 p.m. Some pretty big-time Philly acts on the bill: Dance-rockers Free Energy, soul-rockers Black Landlord, the West Philadelphia Orchestra, Get the Led Out (who will do a [...]
ESPN reports that 76ers' center Samuel Dalembert was devastated by the destruction he saw his native Haiti: "He cries talking about what he found there. For instance children without parents, wandering in desperation. 'I saw somebody's leg amputated in front of me. Surgeries performed on a kitchen table ... I'm talking about a folding kitchen table ... I have some disturbing pictures. And it hurts. ... There was no surgery room ... You heard him screaming. ... Not enough alcohol. Things we take for granted, you know. They try to make one bottle of alcohol last.. 'As for the people he met in Haiti, Dalembert says: "I salute all of them. ... All I see is they're still trying to find all the bodies. You still see people holding strong. They're still finding bodies after the first earthquake and people are still holding strong, man. That tells you a lot about us, man. We're out there holding strong.'
So far, HPP’s call for aid has attracted a surge of eager donors, volunteers and NBC 10 cameras. However, local activists fear that public complacency will set in once the enthusiasm wears off.
The New York Times notes that the Haiti quake seems to be leaving the U.S. in the position as the only power — internal or external to Haiti — that can possibly impose some kind of rough order there. But what happens in the long term? My friend and nemesis Jim Lakely offered a suggestion [...]
The Daily News reports that 13 Haitian-American Philly cops are leading city efforts to raise help for victims of the Haiti quake: "The 13 officers 'all have families over there. For them, this is a labor of love,' said Chief Inspector James Tiano. Tiano said that the doors of the city's 22 police precincts will be opened today to accept donations for the starving, injured and dying Haitians, after another aftershock rocked the island yesterday. ... Sgt. Rodney Poliard, who heads the police Haitian relief squad, said that a preliminary list of needed items include: baby food, baby formula, diapers, baby wipes - for children and adults - nonperishable food that does not require a can opener, first-aid supplies, tents, tarps, new sheets and blankets, solar-powered flashlights, shoes, sandals and cases of water. No clothing will be accepted, and cash donations should be made to the American Red Cross, said Tiano."
We have secured a private jumbo jet to transport supplies to Haiti which is leaving in the next 24 - 48hours. We are in need of DOCTORS, NURSES and DONATIONS to go to Haiti in order to provide medical care. Vivant & HPP is currently coordinating with The Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia, the Haitian Clergy of Philadelphia, Beyond Boarders, the Mayor's Office, Temple Haitian Student Association, University of Pennsylvania Haitian Student Association, Congressman Brady's office, Philadelphia Young Democrats, political officials and other Haitian organizations in the surrounding area to devise a plan to provide assistance to Haiti.
Yahoo! Sports reports that 76ers center Samuel Dalembert is a native of Haiti who still has relatives in that quake-stricken nation. "This had been the most tortured, cruelest day of Dalembert’s life. He wanted to charter a flight to Port-au-Prince, but it wasn’t possible. His family has mostly moved to the United States through the years, but there are still so many relatives, so many friends. He used his platform to tell the story of Haiti, and he did an endless run of interviews and pleaded for support. In something of a daze, Dalembert played in the Sixers’ 93-92 loss to the New York Knicks and delivered 12 points and 21 rebounds. The game had been over an hour now, and Dalembert had slipped on an “NBA Cares” gold shirt to tape a public service announcement in a side room of the Wachovia Center. When tragedy hits, the NBA is good this way. It had Yao Ming(notes) tape a message when an earthquake hit China, and now the league wanted Dalembert to do it for Haiti. Within hours, the PSA will play everywhere. It will reach the corners of the globe, and in a lot of places, for a lot of people, Sam Dalembert will be the face, the voice, of his anguished, suffering people. Hundreds of thousands could be dead in Haiti, and millions more will need help for sheer survival."
When wild pigs and dogs eat a human corpse, they leave the feet. The photo is too gruesome to print here. The torso and head are missing. The pelvic bone, thighs and legs have been licked clean of all skin and muscle, leaving just bones that, without size perspective, could easily be mistaken for well-devoured chicken wings. Except for the left foot, still intact, and the right foot, still wearing a sock. Local immigration lawyer Tom Griffin took the photograph of the dismembered corpse in 2004 on the road leading out of Cit� Soleil, the Haitian neighborhood sometimes called the "Calcutta of the Caribbean." New victims appeared on that road and many others in the Port-au-Prince slum almost every morning. You can't blame anyone for not wanting to go back there. But the very notion of helping someone avoid returning was enough for Canada to want to imprison a local 65-year-old grandmother for the rest of her life....
Just 12 when she moved with her family from Haiti to Brooklyn, Edwidge Danticat, now 35, can't seem to shake the island's ghosts. She comes to town this week to read from her new book, The Dew Breake...
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor