Port-au-Prince Should Be Evacuated (Updated)

First responders from around the globe are descending on Port-au-Prince Haiti to search for trapped victims and render first aid and medical assistance to the injured. In the couple of days the rescue effort turns to recovery. This is when the true extent of the disaster will start to sink in.

Two million people (or more) live in Port-au-Prince and at the moment there is no municipal water or sewer system. Electric power is at best spotty if existent at all. As an island nation Haiti presents obstacles not present in the Sichuan China earthquake in 2008. Residents of Sichuan Province had the resources of the central government of China responding from many directions. Port-au-Prince can only be supplied by air and sea.

The airport has one functional runway, the port has only a few usable docks. Today there were 11 scheduled relief flights from the US but only 3 were able to land due to runway congestion.

In a matter of days the estimated 2 million homeless, with no clean water or sewer facilities will face the possibility of contracting highly communicable diseases like measles, dengue fever and dysentery.

Fewer than 10,000 United Nations contracted employees police the city. A hundred or so US Marines are on the ground now, mostly to operate and secure the airport. Soldiers from the US 82nd Airborne are en route and will add to the security effort but this is a meager force considering the task at hand. Desperation caused by hunger and thirst is already driving some to loot and riot.

Residents should be relocated to other cities in Haiti or moved into tent cities outside Port-au-Prince away from temptation to occupy buildings that still stand but as yet not inspected. Potentially severe aftershocks will be a reality for weeks to come.

A relief effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan needs to be initiated. To get the C-5′s and C-130′s on the ground someone needs to clear the airport of media types flying in for a look see in their corporate jets.

I was watching ABC tonight and was appalled at the sappy picture the pop journalists tried to paint. After thinking about it I realized these reporters have have no inclination of the breadth of this tragedy. If they did they would not have been so trite.

The only efforts that count now are those that will save lives, not story telling. What is needed is 200,000 tents, 4 million bottles of water a day, food for 2 million and medical teams to treat the sick and wounded. The airlift has to start yesterday and it will have to be round the clock for the coming weeks.

I cannot think of a similar scenario. Even the Christmas tsunami of 2004 that killed 200,000 was not as unique. The coastline was affected but survivors had help a few miles inland in addition to international aid.

God help the people of Haiti and God bless the helpers, our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters that went into this environment to do what they do.

Update 1/21–The Haiti government intends to relocate 400,000 homeless Port-au-Prince refugees outside the city into tent camps citing concerns about “sanitation and disease outbreaks in makeshift settlements like the one on the city’s central Champs de Mars plaza”.

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Mike Morales

Retired Cal Fire/CDF Fire Captain

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