After a 6.1 aftershock again rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 20, just eight days after a major earthquake devastated the capital, massive health and rescue efforts continue steadily, Obama administration officials told reporters Wednesday.
Capt. Andy Stevermer, of the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System, said, “We are making progress. We’re working very hard to bring health care to Haiti and to the victims of this overwhelming tragedy here.”
Administration officials and disaster responders spent most of the past week fending off criticism that their efforts were too slow or that some humanitarian aid had been blocked by U.S. military personnel who had taken control of the Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport in Port au Prince.
A military spokesperson said that the real issue was the volume of air traffic into the tiny airport. “There are literally hundreds of flights today trying to get in here,” Capt. John Kirby of Joint task Force-Haiti said Monday, Jan. 18. “There is one tarmac, one runway, one ramp for all the aircraft.” On an ordinary day, the airport may see three flights land.
“It is a sheer volume issue,” he added. “There are more planes that want to land here than we can accommodate in any given hour.” Each aircraft is allotted a certain amount of time to land, park, unload and take off again. If any thing causes a delay, the system can back up and force the air-traffic controllers to divert or delay some planes. Kirby said in response to some questions about the diversion of some humanitarian aid planes.
Kirby added that the efforts to land supplies at the airport had steadily improved over the past days and insisted that a major priority of the U.S. military and the Obama administration is to preserve Haiti’s sovereignty over its airspace, land and the rescue efforts.
Military officials also estimated that some 10,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Haiti.
Major ministries of the Haitian government, according to media reports, were destroyed during the earthquake, and their responses to the disaster have been hampered. President René Préval, however, has promised that some government operations will re-open this week, including schools, even if classes have to be held in tents.
Part of the cause of delays has been the both the quantity and urgency with which aid has poured into the tiny country. In the United States, efforts by television and movie actors, recording artists and other celebrities have raised millions of dollars for relief.
Labor unions responded swiftly as well. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists has raised $25,000 for relief efforts so far. Workers have donated $13,000 to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center’s Earthquake for Haitian Workers’ Campaign https://co.clickandpledge.com/advanced/default.aspx?wid=20780. Tens of thousands more have been donated by other state federations and local labor councils. Members of the Ironworkers, Plumbers and Pipefitters and SEIU are joining local Red Cross telethons as well.
Photo: US Air Force, courtesy WikiMedia Commons