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Dispatch from the Port-au-Prince airport

Haiti, January 16, 2010

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Greetings from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Richard and I arrived here late Friday night, about 2am (Saturday, really). We had just sat down to dinner at our hotel in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (the city we had flown into, since the Port-au-Prince airport wasn't an option) when we got a call from the U.S. Embassy that a military flight was leaving for Port au Prince NOW.

We hurriedly grabbed our bags and some water bottles and granola bars that Gene and I bought in the afternoon in preparation for an eventual departure. Then we raced to the airport (and I wished I had taken a shower more recently than the previous night, because we're not going to see water for a while), where we boarded a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane along with a large group of search and rescue workers from Costa Rica and their dogs and a few other aid workers.

We arrived in Port-au-Prince about an hour and a half later. The airport is still standing, with no immediately visible damage, and lights were blazing. And it was LOUD — you had to shout to be heard over the roar of the 6 or 7 large planes parked in front of the airport. Richard and I weren't exactly sure where to go. We had been told that we could expect no logistical support once we had arrived, but I had heard that aid agencies were pitching their tents at the far end of the tarmac next to the military barracks.

We headed down the tarmac, lugging our bags past impromptu TV studios where reporters were standing in front of cameras, sitting slouched on the curb, or somehow sleeping in spite of the noise under mosquito nets, as well as past a group of locals waiting to evacuate.

We couldn't find the aid agency encampment in the dark, so we just pitched a tent on the grass next to a mango tree where another TV crew was also camping. We didn't have any air mattresses or sleeping bags, so I just spread out a blanket (another purchase from the afternoon) and somehow managed to fall asleep after dining on a cereal bar.

Planes continued to come and go all night long. We got up about 6am this morning as it was getting light. We're waiting for another member of our team, Cassandra Nelson, to arrive, and we've arranged for a vehicle to come pick us up.

So we're sitting on the tarmac, watching uniformed search and rescue teams from Russia, Iceland, the U.S., the U.K., and Mexico march past and watching a continuous stream of planes land and take off. The airport is currently being controlled by the U.S. military, so there are lots of American military folks walking around and loading and unloading pallets of supplies. Mercy Corps headquarters has connected us with a locally-based organization, and we'll be heading to their compound to stay, where they have electricity, communications and space for us.

The aid agencies camped right next to the airport are primarily search and rescue groups, so I'll head over to the MINUSTAH (UN mission in Haiti) as soon as I can to learn what other relief and development organizations are doing so that we can coordinate our efforts with theirs.