Haitians are no strangers to hard times. For centuries, these resolute people battled earthquakes, tsunamis, and viscous Caribbean storms. As recently as 2008, a serious of hurricanes and tropical storms claimed the lives of nearly 800 Haitians. These devastations, still fresh in mourning minds, were eclipsed by the February 2010 earthquake that proved to be one of the worst disasters in modern history.
The primary quake struck two hours before sunset on January 12, and over 50 aftershocks continued intermittently for the following week and a half. When all had settled, the inventory of damages was staggering. A quarter million were dead. Even more were injured. The capital city and environs of Port-au-Prince were particularly hard-hit, and a million were made homeless. Essential infrastructure was not spared. The presidential palace, National Assembly building, and main jail were leveled. Worse, every hospital in the city was damaged or destoyed. Relief efforts were immediatly launched by an international outpouring, but before medical care could be established, logistic challenges had to be addresses. Sea, air, and land transportation facilities were ravaged, and into this setting responders deployed.
As an officer in the US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, I joined a team of health professionals charged with the logistical task of establishing and maintaining infrasturcture for several field medical clinics. Most of us were given less than 48 hours notice prior to departing our duty stations. We were initially flown to Atlanta, being told little more than to meet at a hotel immediately upon arrival. Where we were met by National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) team members whol ensured that our passports were in order, our respirators functioned properly, and they issued last-minute vaccinations and Malaria prophylactics. We were quickly briefed on the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Haiti mission, and we quickly left for our chartered flight to Port-au Prince. Still reeling from the whirlwind briefing, we began to get to know each other as we speculated about what lay ahead.
CAPT Sean Altekruse traveling from DC to Atlanta.
Last-minute vaccinations in Atlanta.
A DMAT mmber tests our respirators.
LCDR Anna Park makes a final call home prior to boarding a chartered plane to Port-au-Prince.
LTJG Sean McMahan struggles to communicate over the noise of jet engines.
Staring at each otheron the flightline, we wondered who was supposed to unload our bags. We eventually figured out how to access the cargo hold and got to work.
Yours truly, waiting for a ride on a stake body truck.
Toussaint Louverture International Airport’s air traffic control tower tent. The US Air force coordinated flights at the damaged airport.