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Update | 4:12 p.m. Here is another perspective on the situation at the airport in Port-au-Prince from a reader of The Lede who writes that she is there at the moment:
I understand all the concern and outrage over the slowness of aid, and the difficulties at the airport. I work for a major organization here in Haiti, I am sleeping outside near the airport in Port-au-Prince. Thousands of people are working frantically to get the aid in, the airport is TINY — it has one runway — just ONE! [T]he (teeny) terminal was severely damaged. And there are at least 30 massive planes from every country on earth parked side by side.
A plane lands about every 10 minutes. There are only a certain number of plans that can land, taxi, and park safely — and it is at max capacity all the time. People being evacuated, many of whom are Haitian-Americans who came to visit their grandmothers over Christmas, are on long lines to leave, and they criss-cross the tarmac with the hundreds of international military and aid workers rushing to get their supplies in.
The U.S. military is doing a good job to control the very complicated air traffic control for an ungodly situation, with almost no equipment or resources (which were destroyed) — there is no tower btw. So please reserve your judgments, and cut all the people risking their welfare in this increasingly dangerous and urgently dire humanitarian situation some slack. And for people who are unhappy with the UN — please bear in mind that the entire UN staff living in Haiti and now working incredibly hard to organize perhaps the largest humanitarian response ever are also quake victims too.
Update | 4:17 p.m. Here is an update on the work of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières released to reporters a few minutes ago:
On the fifth day of their response to the disaster in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams on the ground remain focused on trying to cope with the huge demand for life-saving surgery for those who suffered terrible injuries in the January 12 earthquake. They are stretching their existing operating theatres to the limit by working around the clock, while at the same time trying to create more capacity by finding new facilities and transporting in mobile structures.
In the newly established hospital in the Carrefour district, an MSF surgical team carried out 90 operations within 24 hours of getting the theatre usable. The surgical team at Choscal hospital has completed around 90 operations since beginning work there. Another team carried out 20 in a converted shipping container. More capacity is on its way, but the arrival of a twin-theatre inflatable hospital has been delayed because one of the planes carrying it did not get permission to land at Port-au-Prince airport on Saturday and was re-routed to the Dominican Republic. That plane was unloaded earlier today and its cargo is being trucked into Haiti. A plane carrying the other half of the hospital did land this morning in Port-au-Prince, but MSF is still concerned that the delivery of vital supplies are still being delayed.
The conditions in towns outside of the capital, some of which were even closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, are becoming clearer. An MSF team plans to go today by helicopter to the town of Jacmel, on the southern coast of the island. Others have been to assess the needs in Léogâne, about an hour outside of Port-au-Prince. Thousands of people from the capital have fled to Saint Marc, an area less damaged by the quake; hundreds of injured people are in the hospital there.
Despite the transport problems, MSF has managed to get in more than 100 extra international staff to help the teams who were working in Haiti before the earthquake. The specialists include surgeons, anesthetists, nephrologists and psychologists. Many had to come by road from the Dominican Republic but MSF has managed to get four cargo planes carrying staff and supplies into Port-au-Prince since last Wednesday.
The teams on the ground say that conditions are certainly not improving yet and that the streets are full of desperate people. The lack of food and clean water is causing further stress.
MSF is still trying to get a full accounting of the whereabouts of its Haitian staff. We know that some have not survived the quake but communications remain difficult and we have not yet been able to trace all our colleagues.
Port-au-Prince/Paris /New York, 17 January 2009—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel. Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital. A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment. The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material.
Flights seeking permission to land continuously circle the airport, which is damaged and has only a single runway, rankling several governments and aid agencies. "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti," Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN's World Food Programme, told the New York Times. "But most flights are for the US military. Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync."
The Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières complained about flights with medical staff and equipment which were redirected to the Dominican Republic. "We are all going crazy," said Nan Buzard, of the American Red Cross.