Day Two in Haiti: Trying to Leave the Airport

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 1:21 AM EST

I've been posting dispatches from Jon Pageler, an old friend and MoJo board member who's in Haiti with a relief effort put on by his company, Diageo. It's an interesting window into the logistics of getting aid to Hatians, as well as into the media. Apologies that these have been posted out of order, that's how I've been getting them. Read the account of his first day here. Day three is here.

Day Two in Haiti. Very long. Made much longer by the fact that oversize military craft were idling next to us all night. Not just idling, since things were moving so fast, they never powered down. Some of the guys found an open door to the jet way; they are sleeping there now. They seemed much more rested than us.

The pace of the military plane arrivals slowed dramatically during the day but is beginning to pick up again. I can't imagine that things will be as intense as last night however. Lots of private aid charters are coming in. Rented 727s and 707s by aid organizations and some governments. Other governments have either brought in 777s or used their military planes.

Many countries are here. Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, UK—to name just a few. The news media is all here as well. Diane, Sanjay, Anderson, Katie, even Geraldo. Pecking order seems to have been established as CNN is staying at the Plaza Hotel. Now what that means in Port-au-Prince I do not know, but it certainly causes other news organizations to roll their eyes.

As we predicted last night, based on the cargo of all the planes coming in, search and rescue (and security) was the emphasis of the day. Although we also understand that cleaning up the streets and removing the dead was a high priority as well. Clearly some of the heavy equipment brought in last night was used for that.
 
Our day was mostly an airport day. We had a good run of dispersals although things seemed to start a bit late. Combine island time with poor to non-existant telecommunications and, well, you get the picture. But by noon we were loading World Food Program trucks in bucket brigade fashion, enabling us to move nearly 15 tons of materials in just over an hours time, all the while with cameras blazing, mostly foreign press. The shot was one of the few "shots of the day" that is until Hilary came in. Once the trucks were loaded we travelled via convoy to the UN compound and home to the Ado's distribution enter for inventory and re-packaging. We will be making deliveries tomorrow, with a focus on the affected families of NGO workers.

Afterward, we hustled back to the airport to meet a plane with medical supplies and to complete the final disbursement. Some went to the Red Cross, some to a local hospital that we will visit tomorrow, and some to Diageo's Learning for Life program.

Early in the evening last night, we got word of an orphanage that was really in need. We had directions and drivers at the ready to get us there but at the last minute the orphanage pulled the plug. They felt that the situation outside the gates was too severe to risk bringing food in, despite the dire need of the children. Then we heard that CNN did a profile piece on the orphanage's situation and soon after our attempts to communicate with them became extremely difficult. Their email was jammed and the already hopeless cell service had become non existent. But our Bridge Foundation cohort back in Miami managed to get things back on track and after many fits and starts they managed to get a driver down to us. You could see the look of appreciation on their faces—they brought several volunteers to help load the truck.  Hopefully we will be able to visit that orphanage at some point in the future.

At the airport, things have been changing. Water has begun to flow much more freely. Until early this evening everyone on the tarmac, including military personnel, were on the hunt for water but then all of a sudden it just seemed that pallets of it were available everywhere.

On the outbound side we've seen convoys of stretchers being walked into planes. Clearly they are moving the wounded to better hospitals. The search and rescue teams are back but they have their own camp on the other end of the airport from us, where we are planning to camp tomorrow night when the others arrive. But more on that tomorrow.

Clara Jeffery is co-editor of Mother Jones. Follow her on Twitter @clarajeffery.

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