U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Reaches Haiti

Even before the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship, Comfort, anchored off the coast of Haiti on Wednesday, patients who were injured in last week’s earthquake were airlifted onto the ship to receive care, the Miami Herald reports (Clark, 1/21). According to the Baltimore Sun, “patients were flown in by the Navy, Coast Guard or Air Force in one of the 30 helicopters available within the ship’s range. Plans for a boat-based shuttle were foiled by an earthquake aftershock that flattened the pier the Comfort had expected to use and that jolted the ship as if it had hit ground. Ship officials identified an alternate boat-landing site by midafternoon” (Little, 1/21).

VOA News writes, “The Comfort’s two helicopters have been coming and going at a rapid pace, with the ability to ferry up to 11 patients at a time to the hospital ship” (Presto, 1/20). The 1,000-bed vessel “is equipped to do everything a major hospital can, short of transplants and open-heart surgery,” the Miami Herald writes, adding that it is “also prepared for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, and has a 16-bed isolation unit.” Comfort has “13 surgeons and 27 physicians and counting, as well as 18 Creole translators – several of whom volunteered to come aboard as soon as they heard about the earthquake.” Commander Timothy Donahue said he expects the ship “will be filled to capacity soon” (1/21).

More than 350 crew members are expected to join the ship, but their arrival has been slow and many will only arrive in the next two to three days by boat, the Baltimore Sun reports. “But even with the slowed startup, the ship’s main treatment and assessment rooms seemed on the verge of being overwhelmed” (1/21).

U.S. Officials Discuss Aid Delivery; Aid Reaching People, But Health Situation Remains Precarious

U.S. officials are reacting to allegations that aid delivery after the earthquake has been slow, CNN reports. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Realistically, I am aware of the difficulties that this terrible natural disaster has posed.” She added that “she was impressed by how much had gotten done, considering ‘so many challenges that had to be addressed all at once.'” Lt. Gen. Keen, who is overseeing U.S. military operations in Haiti, “said any aircraft identified as carrying medical supplies have priority for landing. They are turned away only ‘if there’s no parking space on the ramp, and they don’t have sufficient fuel to hold in their holding pattern,’ he said” (1/21). NPR interviews Cheryl Mills, the State Department’s point person on Haiti, about the U.S. role in relief efforts and the upcoming donor conference in Montreal (Montagne, 1/21).

In Port-au-Prince, many earthquake survivors left for the “countryside in hopes of finding safer conditions, but there was concern whether small outlying communities would be able to handle the sudden influx,” the Los Angeles Times/San Francisco Chronicle reports. But “the relief effort appeared to be making some progress” for those who stayed in the capital.

“The U.N. World Food Program said it had delivered about a million ready-to-eat meals in and around Port-au-Prince, and hoped to provide 10 million more in the next week. … The U.S. Army had two major aid distribution points up and running,” the newspaper writes (Wilkinson/Mozingo/Ellingwood, 1/21). According to NPR, “The U.S. military is now the largest single-food provider in the devastated Haitian capital” (Beaubien, 1/21).

The Wall Street Journal notes that although “[a]id such as food and water began to be more widely distributed … the need for essentials such as medicines was overwhelming – and claiming lives by the day. At any given moment, thousands of injured, some grievously, wait outside virtually any hospital or clinic, pleading for treatment.” The article examines the deaths that are occurring after the earthquake. “The lack of medicines is only one of many factors that could raise the death toll in coming days and weeks, including fatalities from disease, contaminated water, downed electricity lines, and hazardous debris,” the newspaper writes (Dugan/Dade, 1/21).

The New York Times also examines the health situation in the earthquake’s aftermath. “[A]uthorities said the biggest dangers now facing survivors of last week’s major earthquake were untreated wounds and rising disease, not falling debris.” According to the newspaper, “Because of untreated injuries, infectious diseases and dismal sanitary conditions, health workers said that the natural disaster that struck Haiti more than a week ago remained a major medical crisis and that, unless quickly controlled, it would continue to take large numbers of lives in the days and weeks ahead” (Lacey, 1/20). IRIN looks at Haiti’s lack of disaster preparedness, and reports that the WHO “is calling for a response that equips the health sector for any future disasters” (1/20).

In related news, U.N. officials say they might not be able to determine a final death toll from the severe earthquake, the Washington Post reports. “Haitian officials estimated Wednesday that the death toll might reach between 100,000 and 150,000 and that 70,000 bodies have already been buried in mass graves. But U.N. officials say the numbers are at best a guess.” According to the newspaper, “The grim process of counting the dead has been complicated by the breakdown of government institutions, including the collapse of hospitals and morgues.” The article looks at ongoing rescue efforts and the U.N. losses (Lynch, 1/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post examines the mass graves. “Despite pleas from the world that every effort be made to identify Haiti’s dead, and that they be buried in shallow graves from which loved ones might eventually retrieve them, workers say there is simply no time for that – and little point. ‘We just dump them in, and fill it up,’ said Luckner Clerzier, 39, who was helping guide trucks to another grave site farther up the road” (Haven, 1/20).

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