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Portland aid groups find devastation, needs in Haiti

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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The Beaverton Valley Times
January, 2010

Blogs from people on the ground: ‘Most of the dead are just anonymous bodies’

Local aid workers hit the ground running Saturday and Sunday, heading into a devastated Port-au-Prince to sort out the needs of people living on streets and struggling amid rubble and corpses in the wake of Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

Volunteers from Portland’s Mercy Corps and Tigard’s Medical Teams International reported their findings in blog posts, telling of a city and nation without clean water, enough food and other basics.

“Driving through Port-au-Prince, everyone wears handkerchiefs as a mask to block the smell of rotting bodies,” wrote Cassandra Nelson of Beaverton, working with Mercy Corps, in her Sunday blog. “On the radio, name after name after name is recited – they are announcing the identified dead, but, of course, most of the dead here are just anonymous bodies being buried in mass graves.”

Medical help on the way
In addition to four people from Mercy Corps, a Medical Teams International group left for Haiti Thursday, Jan. 14, with medical supplies for the region. The team includes veteran volunteers Dr. Joe Markee of Vancouver, Wash., and Dr. Daniel Diamond of Silverdale, Wash., and registered nurses Linda Markee of Vancouver, Deanna King of Harrison, Idaho, and Anne Blaufus of Lake Oswego.

The Markees were medical missionaries in Haiti for many years. They have led a number of teams to Haiti. Blaufus works at Providence Portland Medical Center.

A second team led by Dr. Lew Zirkle, an orthopedic surgeon from Richland, Wash., leaves Sunday.

Nelson left for Haiti Friday, where she joined Gene Kunze of Portland, who was in the devastated nation shortly after the quake hit. Nelson is a veteran of several relief efforts during the past decade, working with non-government organizations in war-torn Afghanistan and parts of Iraq.

Kunze spent six months in the Wenchuan earthquake zone of China in 2008, which was heavily damaged.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems in Lake Oswego is joining the Washington State Hospital Association to help Medical Teams International provide medical care in Haiti.

The associations have raised $100,000 from 156 hospitals to sponsor 10 emergency medical response groups from Medical Teams International. Each medical team requires $10,000 to cover travel, food and basic supplies for volunteers.

Medical Teams International is working with local hospitals to provide medications for the ravaged areas. Each team will have enough medication for 3,000 Haitian victims.

‘She knew that I cared’
Nelson spent most of Sunday visiting spontaneous camps of people displaced by the quake, assessing their needs for water. They also are working with the United Nations and other humanitarian groups to distribute aid and avoid duplication of efforts, Nelson wrote.

Jenny Vaughan, a program officer for Mercy Corps’ conflict management team., wrote in her blog Sunday that as bodies are cleared from Port-au-Prince streets, people are still digging through rubble to find others who died in the quake. Vaughan arrived Saturday night with Richard Burks, Mercy Corps’ deputy emergency director, and set up camp next to a mango tree outside the airport when it became too dark to travel in the city.

“The roads are passable, but there is a lot of rubble,” Vaughan wrote. “Many buildings are flattened, and many more are dangerously unsound. In residential areas, people sleep on one side of the street at night while cars pass on the other. Other people who have lost their homes have set up rudimentary shelters with tarps and blankets in public areas. We’re told that some food is available, but all the banks are closed so people are running out of cash. Clean water is in short supply.”

Dr. Daniel Diamond with Medical Teams International wrote in his blog on Sunday that he was working to help establish a UN field hospital, even though the makeshift site lacked operating rooms. Among those working with Diamond was an engineer from Partners In Health, who certified that the building they were in was safe.

The health situation was dire, Diamond wrote, as a lack of adequate hospital space could leave some seriously injured people with few options. He also has faced terrible situations treating people injured in the quake.

“This evening I helped to amputate the foot of an 11-year-old boy, but he later died,” Diamond wrote. “His mother lost his sister in the quake as well. So sad.

“The mother is so destitute that she later asked me to get the money she put under his pillow. It was about 20 Haitian dollars. She was numb and just sat there. Non-verbally I tried to communicate with her that I cared. Our eyes locked and I knew she knew that I cared and that we did all we could.”