Fourteen days in the life of Haiti relief

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Editor's note: Darryl Hall, a member of Rescue Task Force, served as the "Boots-on-the-Ground" team leader for a 14-day humanitarian relief trip to Haiti. The following are Hall's raw entries in his quickly penned daily field notes. The unedited entries show the syncopated pace of their work. The team plans on returning to Haiti in March.


I thought that the Tsunami of 2004 would be the most tragic and devastating event in terms of lost human lives and destruction I would witness in my life. I was wrong. This disaster is far worse than the tsunami. There is more devastation and seemingly less resources to help.

Day One: The team arrives in Dominican Republic. We are immediately able to increase the team by adding two disaster experienced personnel assigned to us by the U.S. Marine Corps, two guys that are going to secure travel zones for us to travel in and work with us in Haiti—Jo and Jordan.


Day Two: Secured flights on two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which flew us directly to U.S. embassy grounds in the middle of Port-au-Prince. The medicine, calcium chloride, which was urgently needed for treating crush syndrome victims, was delivered to Dr. Baker of California Task Force 2. Dr. Baker later reported: "The medicine saved lives."

Many pick-up trucks driving by carrying heaps of bodies.

Stayed the night on Embassy grounds. We were the only non-governmental organization allowed to stay on Embassy grounds.


Day Three: Secured transportation and made our way to World Emergency Relief-UK's project partner and contact of many years, Pastor Astrel Vincent of the Good Samaritan School. The team delivered medical supplies, food, water, cash. Pastor Vincent was running a refugee camp for 2,000 refugees. The school is located in Cite Soleil, Haiti's most notorious slum and had little resources. This area is a "Red Zone" due to the level of danger and violence. The needs are great. Our help is desperately needed and utilized.

Unlike our 2004 Tsunami relief efforts, we are unable to drive to areas where we could purchase resources. It is difficult to secure transportation.  There isn't enough infra-structure to allow relief workers to perform many of the necessary work that needs to be done. Finding supplies is going to be difficult.

The city of Port-au-Prince has become a cemetery. So many missing; buried under tons of rubble and concrete mass. The smell is unbearable. Thousands of people sleeping in the streets.


Day Four: Picked up supplies of food and medicine. The team, partially consisting of high-voltage linemen from San Diego-based Sempra Energy, who specialize in power and electrical, visited the main power plant "Carr Four" and surveyed the situation, assessed damages and developed resolutions.

As our next preplanned "mission goal" we headed to International Faith Missions, located on border of Haiti/Dominican Republic. Drove hours through road blocks, and debris, often times having to get out of the vehicles to move large blocks of concrete, downed power poles, rubble from shattered buildings, trees and other obstacles. IFM pointed us to a school that had become a medical facility and with IFM we traveled down the road.

We immediately began working between the two locations IFM, and a nearby devastated school "Love a Child." Prior to the earthquake "Love a Child" was a school educating K-12th grade. The owner of the property offered the building and schoolyard, allowing us to create a large clinic/triage/surgery camp.

We helped turn the school into a makeshift clinic. There were dozens of people needing medical attention. It was a desperate situation. About 10 minutes after our arrival a bus pulled up with more survivors in need of medical care.  Our team carried injured victims from the bus onto the school grounds and began field triage, medical care and first aid.

There is so much sorrow in the air. People lining the streets crying, sobbing. People still alive under the rubble and little resources to dig them out. 

More trucks transporting bodies; massive gravesites are being dug for burials.

Brutally hot again today.

The team isn't getting much rest but we cannot afford any downtime. Down time means the difference between life and death to these victims.


Day Five: Relocated to "Love a Child" compound where the team set up a makeshift clinic.

We were able to purchase more supplies including wire, electric bulbs, and other power supplies. We reloaded our supplies of water from the Marines at the airport and met with the head of the power company. After drawing up basic plans for the power company to restore power, the team set up quarters in tents on the compound. We strung lights throughout the buildings, fixed the bathrooms, and ensured the compound could function. A young girl of about 8 years of age, who was being moved to our facility for more surgeries, touched my heart. She had just arrived from having her leg amputated below the knee. Within three days they re-amputated above the knee.

Finally, supplies are coming in. Tents, water, food and medicine. We are able to purchase medicine and generators; deliver and set up the much-needed equipment.

We all spent a good part of today treating patients. Carrying patients off the bus, moving patients into the tents we set up, dressing cuts, taking blood pressure. One little boy—about 3 years old—had severe head injury and a possible broken jaw. We were able to spoon feed this little guy some applesauce. Many times through the day our team found themselves doing our most important job of all — wiping tears.

With so many people, volunteers and dozens of injured victims, we had to create a sewage system. Fun day today. Spent a good part of the day doing what we do. Whatever needs to be done. Under the hot sun our team spent hours digging a latrine that would help with sanitation issues.

Showers are sponge baths with very little water. Wet hair, soap and rinse—quick.

Slight sprinkle at night; no hard rain.


Day Six: Team member Simmons ill we performed a field IV and ran three bags of fluids through him. Put him on bed rest. Team unloaded trucks of supplies including bedding, food, water and tents. We unloaded our gear into the auditorium of the school. Jo, our volunteer who we picked up in the Dominican Republic, had to leave the team. He will be missed.

Hot and humid—over 90 degrees.

The ground continues to shake. Those whose homes were not destroyed are forced to sleep outside in fear that, any moment, the ground will shake and their home will become their grave.

We sleep in shifts. The ground shakes and we continue to receive busloads of patients through the night.

Huge tarantulas crawling through the camps at night. Biggest spiders I've ever seen.


Day Seven: Set up more tents, 15 of which are to be used as triage rooms. Tents were filled with only patients. The hospital is expanding very rapidly.

Went to meet up with supplies coming from Rescue Task Force headquarters in San Diego. In delivering supplies to a makeshift clinic we discovered a new mother of triplets needed formula. She was malnourished and unable to breast feed. The 1-day old-babies were on death's bed. Hunted/searched for baby formula for over six hours until finally we located and purchased enough formula to sustain the babies for at least a month.

Other food and medicines were purchased and delivered to various clinics en route.

Assembled dozens of care kits (buckets that had hygiene—soap, shampoo, toothpaste and more).

Ground shook again a few times today. We were purchasing supplies in town during today's shaking. Across the street was a two-story structure.  When the ground started shaking we heard a giant rumble and screams.  The building began to crumble and collapse. Dust could be seen rising throughout the city. People were panicking and scrambling. Three people jumped from the second story of the building rather than risk being buried alive. One man broke his back in the jump and another man suffered compound fractures.

"Guys' we have only been here a week." It felt like we have been here for months.

No showers. Very hot days and team is cold at night.


Day Eight: Team members Simmons, Fleming, Martinez wired up a second building's electricity to enable more doctors to work around the clock and utilize surgery equipment requiring power.

Went to wire up the downtown clinic providing electricity to hundreds of doctors and volunteer workers around the clock.

I dropped off specialized medicines that had been requested by Pastor Vincent at the Good Samaritan School. 

Dropped Jordan off at airport. While there CNN asked to do an interview and on the way back made a quick stop at CNN headquarters. Although we didn't have time for an interview, I knew that it might bring in much-needed funds to Rescue Task Force. The disaster relief work in Haiti and other parts of the world, including their work in the U.S., is ongoing and funds are needed.

Garcia stayed at base camp tending to patients all day administering pain meds, changing dressings, carrying patients, moving IV's.

Didn't sleep well—huge earthquake last night—have to fight mosquitoes to use the restroom.

Funerals take place in the streets. Families are dressed in clean, black clothing. They walk behind a hearse carrying a family member that has passed. 

Biggest spider I have ever seen now camps every night at the top of my tent—I named him "Tee Pee." He perched at the top of my tent.


Day Nine: Packed up camp—finished loose ends at camp so we could move. Organized relief doctors, set up additional tents. People upset, but we need to set up for others. Mission must move forward. Lives are at stake.

Went to another clinic and delivered food and medicine, set up a huge tent for Catholic nuns, and delivered mattresses for them. One of the nuns had survived the earthquake by jumping out a second story window suffering multiple breaks in her leg.

Returned to "Love a Child" to pick up more medicine and supplies previously left there. On my way to the truck, I noticed the bus unloading patients. Many were being transported on mattresses. As they were offloading, a young girl caught my eye. It looked like the young girl that had had her leg amputated twice. The volunteers laid the mattress on the ground and the surgeon was standing over her. I asked if it was the same girl. My heart broke as he shook his head yes. This poor child had suffered infection and as a result underwent a third amputation and her leg had to be amputated at mid-thigh. Her little body was so broken. I wanted so badly to bring her home. 

None of the patients can recover inside of buildings. The unstable structures are life threatening. Tents are used as recovery rooms. People, doctors, nurses, volunteers, and patients felt safer on the grass than inside any building.

Made another pass by Good Samaritan School and set up tents, dropped off mattresses and more medicine for Pastor Vincent.

Arrived at U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne. Assessed the refugee camp at the bottom of the hill for their needs. 40,000 people stay there during the day and over 70,000 people are there during the night.

Joined the officer in charge and other officers in an Intel meeting where they requested that RTF run electricity and lights. With over 70,000 people in one area and no light rapes, theft and other acts of violence were occurring. The 82nd Airborne wanted RTF to run lights through the camps—four total. Assigned to RTF was a military security team to protect the RTF team while they worked.

Set up camp on a tennis court and then attended another meeting that evening to lay out our plans.


Day Ten: Picked up supplies and generator. Pre-wired refugee campsites One and Two were completed with lighting. Having electricity and lights in the camp made for a very quiet night that night crime had minimized and there was peace.


Day Eleven: Completed stringing lights through refugee campsites Three and Four. Hot day—climbing trees, wiring electrical and connecting to generators. Went to "Love a Child" to pick up medicine. At this point "Love a Child" now has a dozen large tents set up for patients and buses are still coming in dropping off injured victims from hard hit Port-au-Prince. "Love a Child" has transformed the auditorium into a distribution warehouse and we are able to load/unload supplies and distribute medicines and food throughout Haiti to dozens of make shift clinics.

 Doctors from the refugee camp needed specific medicines—IV equipment, pain killers, suture kits, antibiotics and more. Filled their "needs list" and delivered supplies to additional, different clinic areas.

With the medicines that come in we make "goodie bags" full of a variety of miscellaneous medicines and medical supplies. Each "bag" is filled with pain killers, bandages, Tylenol, antibiotics, IV's, Band-Aids, suture kits and more. We distributed these "goodie bags" to various clinics throughout Haiti that we have been working with.

Headquarter meeting with 82nd Airborne to prepare for our departure.


Day Twelve: Packed up camp. Handed over personal and emergency supplies to Jenkins/Penn Haiti Relief Organization who are remaining in the area. Left behind pocket knives, flashlights, lighting equipment, tents and whatever else could be used.

Purchased and delivered food and care kits (containers that had hygiene—soap, shampoo, toothpaste and more). Broke up the group into three teams to deliver to various NGO's that were in need.

Purchased more generators and delivered electrical supplies to the "Love a Child compound."

One car broke down. Waited hours for repair.

It's hard to think we are leaving. There is still so much to do …

Waited at airport in Port-au-Prince. Jumped from military flight to commercial after talking with a pilot. This allowed us to fly into Miami and not into a military base. Flew out late at night arriving Miami early morning.


Day Thirteen: In Miami. Hot showers, warm meal and rest.


Day Fourteen: HOME. Before exiting the plane I asked each one of the team if they had the opportunity would they do it again and, unanimously, each one said "I'm there… just tell me when!" There is so much need.

That team is now home. Today as you read this, Rescue Task Force and World Emergency Relief are sending more than $4.3 million worth of medicines, tents, food and more to Haiti. The needs are great. Please help keep the supplies moving.


To make a donation or for more information on the Rescue Task Force, visit www.rescuetaskforce.org.

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