From My Friend in Haiti

| Sat Jan. 16, 2010 1:06 AM EST

"I'm in Haiti." Thus began a series of emails and texts from my friend (and MoJo board member) Jon Pageler, who's in Haiti as part of a big relief/supply run being mounted by his company Diageo. For the specifics of what they're doing—45,000 pounds of food, WHO sanctioned health kits, and the participation of the Washington Redskins (true!)— I had to dig out a press release. But Jon's notes, which I've cobbled together with his permission, give a flavor of what's happening that I thought was worth passing along.

Made delivery with DHL of 2 truck loads of supplies 2 Salvation army's mission on Dumas 2 (factcheck4me). Very poor neighborhood very badly damaged. Mission is housing about 80 refugee families. Still many bodies in the street although most r covered with sheets. The smell of decomposition is beginning 2 take hold. Massive fabric shanty towns have sprung up all over the city. Airport much better controlled now. Planes r getting in, even at night. Carrier (at least what it looked like flying in) off our shore. Just said hello to Diane Sawyer. Haitians seem united. Big march today in solidarity, filled with song, emotion and resolve. Food and medical relief will soon be reaching many more.

And a little later:

All is good here. We are overnighting on the tarmac, literally. We built a fort of sorts out of the remaining food supplies and are sleeping on the bags of rice. Airport is very noisy as there is a steady stream of C-130s and C-17s coming in. Wind from the jets/props actually helps with the bugs and keeps the air circulating so it has its pluses.


Many of the newly arriving relief workers are pitching tents in the grass lawns at the end of the airport so things are pretty secure in here. Our fort will be gone (dispersed) tomorrow so we will have to find another solution to our sleeping situation. Skies are clear so that is a good thing and Mars appears to be burning brightly.

We've had more than a few relief workers and media ask if we could spare some food and we've allocated a ration of corn beef hash for that purpose. We are hoping some of that goodwill will get us on a search and rescue mission with the French team that flew in today along with their dogs—after we've finished delivering the rest of the supplies, of course. Good news about the airport and our DHL friends is that they have power, so we can get charged up. Sat phones are worthless for incoming so use email or text.
There is just a ton of activity here now. Probably 20 big planes an hour. Fuel and water are in short supply so hopefully there is a planeload or two of those. Even search and rescue have been asking us for water. And I don't even want to know how much we've been paying for gas.

Next email came a few hours later. To understand this it helps to know that Jon used to do advance for political campaigns.

Getting here was planes trains and automobiles—ok, only planes but it felt like it. We flew to Miami on thursday 6am, heard that planes were not getting in to PAP and that they were being diverted to Turks and Caicos. So we flew to T&C thursday morning to try to negotiate a ride on a plane. Problem was that the airport was way too congested and planes that had been circling for upwards of three hours were landing at our FBO. Including a Canadian military plane. So we began to lose faith and began calling fishing boat captains. When that didn't work we began considering flying into Dom Rep and driving over. We had heard varying stories of success. Some trips taking 6 hours, others taking 16. We almost took a Dom Rep flight opportunity but decided against it when a collection of Haitians arrived. They were clearly doers, and rich, and you just knew that they were going to get into PAP no matter what. At about the same time a DC3 from Missionary Flights International landed and decided to overnight and yet first thing in the morning. Sounded like a good plan as it was getting close to dusk and we didn't want to arrive here at night (although now that we have seen the situation here that would not have been a problem). We found a cheap hotel and had a truly spectacular dinner in T&C and planned for a 6:30 departure to the airport. We were told it got light around 8am and that the airport didn't open until 7.


While it was true that the airport opened at 7, it was not true that dawn came at 8am, as the morning glow through my window just before 6am indicated. And this was all the rich Haitians needed —we saw their plane climbing from the tarmac as we were loading our bags into the taxi. This was deflating as they had a huge plane we knew that they would let us ride with them. And we had no doubt they'd make it in. Even if they just landed without permission.The MFI flight also needed to take on a ton of extra fuel so they couldn't take us due to weight concerns.


Things weren't looking good so I began securing us a single prop plane that would try to pick its way to the closest strip it could find to PAP. As we were finalising that deal a pair of dual prop planes chartered by the Salvation Army showed up. They had two extra seats and an interest in us cause we were advancing a plane with medical supplies and food. This fact could help them get permission to land at PAP, which it is what it is all about these days. Well, it worked and we are here. As is our cargo plane - a 727-200 with 45K worth of supplies.

Jesus there are a ton of planes pulling in and none of them are turning off their engines.

 

Jon's next letter, Day Two: Trying to Leave the Airport, can be read here. Day Three, Looting, What Looting, can be read here