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Local aid worker prepares for emotional devastation in Haiti

Haiti, January 14, 2010

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Joe Raineri

January, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - Local relief efforts geared up Wednesday to head to earthquake ravaged Haiti, and one local aid worker is preparing herself to deal with the emotional scene she’s expecting to see.

“The one thing that I have found over the years, you go in with adrenaline,” said aid worker Cassandra Nelson of Mercy Corps. “We are going there with a job and mission with very clear objectives.”

Her responsibility, once she arrives in Haiti, will be to make sure the victims who lost their homes will have shelter. She will also help to ensure they get clean water.

“Waterborne diseases are one of the biggest killers after a natural disaster, and it’s because of inadequate toilet facilities,” she said.

Over the last ten years Nelson has seen everything from the Indonesian tsunami to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, but she said helping people in natural disasters can be much more difficult.

“I think it’s very hard as a humanitarian to respond to a natural disaster in that everything gets wiped out. Typically in wars there is a neighborhood that gets bombed but it’s not like the entire infrastructure is gone,” she said.

With about a day left until she leaves, her group is still trying to figure out how they’ll arrive.

“It looks like we’re going to go via land into the Dominican Republic just because it’s more of a sure bet in getting there,” she said.

Even with the images of the devastation running through her mind, Nelson said she’ll be ready.

“Yes, it’s hard and the suffering is terrible, you can’t avoid it. But I think when you have such a clear mission and you know what your job is, if you keep focused on that is what keeps you going.”

In addition to Nelson, registered nurse Anne Blaufus, who works at Providence Portland Medical Center, will be leaving for Haiti Thursday.

She’s responded to natural disasters before and said the one thing she expects to see is chaos; the same kind of chaos she saw when she helped victims of the Indonesian tsunami five years ago.

Blaufus has spent time in Haiti before when Hurricane Jeanne made landfall. Once on the ground in Haiti she said her work will begin immediately. But one thing she’s thankful for is that her co-workers are making sure she can go.

“My colleagues here a Providence, they can’t do that (go to Haiti) because they have families. So their way of volunteering is to pick up every single one of my shifts,” she said.

Not only will other nurses pick up her shifts, they’re also donating their own vacation time so Blaufus won’t have to worry about going unpaid.

She will be leaving with three other members from Medical Teams International, and she is expected to be in Haiti up to four or five weeks.