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The Oregonian in Haiti: Hope, dread and heartbreaking scenes

Haiti, January 20, 2010

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Kimberly A.C. Wilson

The Oregonian
January, 2010

Reporter Kimberly A.C. Wilson and photographer Bruce Ely are in Haiti, covering the efforts of individuals and groups from the Pacific Northwest to help residents of the earthquake devastated nation.

The two Oregonian staffers left Portland last Thursday and arrived in the Dominican Republic on Saturday after a layover in Florida. They have spent time with the group trying to locate Walt Ratterman and with members of Mercy Corps, the Portland-based international relief organization.

Along with the stories, posts, photos and videos that the two have filed, Wilson also has been using Facebook, iPhone texts and Twitter to communicate with her editors and send her personal observations to friends about what's been going on.

Here is a sampling. Some of the messages have been clarified for readability:

Sunday, Jan. 17, from aboard a charter bus taking the two journalists from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to Haiti:

– It's all good right now. If dark falls before we hit the border (between the two nations), we will bunk safely there. Please don't worry.

– Think we'll stay on this side for the night." Asked whether their location was in the mountains, she said "Seems flat enough here. Town is, I think, called Jimani.

– Gonna break out the MREs (meals ready to eat). Then rest. Dictated (managing editor) Susan (Gage) a short story.

Monday, Jan. 18:

– Slept safe and snug wrapped in netting on bus with 13 souls outside inn in Jimani, D.R. Uncomfortable until, finally, it wasn't. Now heading to join military caravan for sunrise crossing at border. So many logistics to get into Haiti, which in ordinary times ain't all that complicated.

– We are meeting up with Mercy Corps tomorrow. We are sole news team allowed in Hotel Montana compound today. These folks now in charge of morgue and decontamination. Big meeting at 4 on search.

– Am staying in the parking lot of the Hotel Montana as only journos in compound. Kind - and cute - Brazilian firefighters are allowing phone to charge. Still not enough charge to call. Have two big pots of water on the barbecue grill to boil for rice.

– Cooked a poor jumbalaya for the bus folks (the group looking for Ratterman) in the dark as the Brazilian searchers are combing the hotel in the dark and silence to hear survivors. They heard moaning somewhere moments ago so maybe there is a survivor or more in what remains of the once-lovely hotel. From the city, I can hear a church choir and drums. I am gonna lay out on a lounge chair I dragged over from the empty pool and try to sleep under the starry skies. Will be in touch tomorrow."

Tuesday, Jan. 19:

– Many rifle-toting UN soldiers, a girl's tennis shoe among a pile of debris loaded into a primer-splashed pick up, anger on the face of a Haitian man climbing into the truck's cab, tall graceful trees brought down by nature and then axes, idle German shepherd "live" search dogs, the intimidating General Vasquez, a dapper friend of the hotel's family who alone looks as clean and neat as he might any day.

– Finally reached the UN compound, with wifi and power! Can't seem to call out -- maybe you could call me? No story today, I think, as it took all day to get here. But we may be heading out with Mercy Corps folks to fix a water project so there may be a story, maybe.

– Sorry for the long silence. Got to Mercy Corps around 3 and set off on tour of some damaged wells in a shantytown hit hard by the quake, with Mercy Corps folks. Photos coming now but I'm not sure about how quickly I can turn the story. We just got to airport and will spend night on loud tarmac. No light but for a TV reporter's tent. Once we eat some MREs, I should be able to knock the story out but will that be too late? Will that work? Bwt2: We both smell very badly. Btw3: Well, Bruce does at least :)

– Reason No. 11 to teach your children French: they may one day find themselves stuck between sleeping on a grimy airport floor in a grim devastated country (or with the giant roaches on the tarmac outside) or they might ask the kindly cute French soldiers bunked on army cots if they wouldn't have a spare one. They had two...

Wednesday, Jan. 20:

– Not sure what it measured, but the earthquake woke sleeping French soldiers and journos. I'd just gone back to sleep and didn't wake until Bruce shook me and ran out after the others. We are packing up and heading to UN if we can find a ride.

– I'm outside airport awaiting ride to UN compound. People started queuing up an hour ago trying to leave. Those without visas are turned away. The scenes are so heart wrenching: an elderly woman bent over a cane is told to leave by American soldiers; so is a man whose son has a valid U.S. passport when his is found to be expired.

– Haitian refugees attempting to get into the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Many are turned away because they lack valid papers. Most of the people are finely dressed: polished shoes, vests and ties on young boys.

– It's a mess. Teenage youths without luggage, passports or tickets attempt repeatedly to sneak in with larger groups.

– Just did a Flip video shot by Bruce. How does Christiane Amanpour do it??? And why can't I master her accent??

– Anderson Cooper appears to be only other news here (a hospital where Mercy Corps is distributing food). It is horrific. We are staying (instead of catching an afternoon flight back to the states).