WASHINGTON, DC, January 21, 2010 (ENS) – At the request of the Haitian government, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration dispatched a portable, temporary control tower to Haiti today to assist with aircraft operations at the Port-au-Prince airport. The airport’s control tower was destroyed by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12.
U.S. Air Force General Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said today 1,400 flights are waiting to land at the congested airport. Reports of bottlenecking at the airport have emerged as its capacity has swelled from an average of 13 commercial aircraft daily arrivals before the quake.
The 44-foot-long, 12.5 ton replacement tower is being transported aboard a chartered cargo aircraft and FAA technicians will install and prepare it for service, a 48 hour process once the tower arrives at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport.
It comes with two diesel-powered generators and supporting fuel tanks and tools for installation and maintenance. The FAA uses towers like this to support airports struck by a disaster such as a major hurricane.
“This tower is a visible representation of the department’s contribution to our government’s swift and considerable efforts to help Haiti deal with this terrible tragedy,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “We had great support from the military in arranging for the transport of this critical equipment.”
Controllers providing terminal air traffic control services have been working outside at a folding table on a grass strip, using military radios to handle about 160 flights a day.
Air Operations Director U.S. Air Force Colonel Buck Elden told reporters that since he and his troops arrived at the airport on Wednesday January 13 to find a collapsed tower and terminal, no power and no working computers, they have moved over 1,800 fixed wing aircraft and 600 helicopter flights in and out of the facility.
The airport is open around the clock, and Col. Elden emphasized that all aircraft have taken off and landed safely.
As of Tuesday, an airport about 30 miles southeast of the Haitian capital in the city of Jacmel became operational in addition to the San Isidro airport in neighboring Dominican Republic, where officials are looking to open a third airport in Maria Montez.
But Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres has had trouble getting its planes into the airport although they are loaded with medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and life-saving machines.
An MSF cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there.
Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.
“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil. “I have never seen anything like this. Any time I leave the operating theater I see lots of people desperately asking to be taken for surgery. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”
More than 700 MSF staff are working to provide emergency medical care to earthquake survivors in and around Port-au-Prince. MSF teams are currently working in Choscal Hospital, Martissant Health Center, Trinite Hospital, Carrefour hospital, Jacmel Hospital, and are establishing a 100-bed inflatable hospital in the Delmas area.
Untreated injuries, infectious diseases and sanitary conditions remain a priority concern to prevent death. The removal of medical waste from hospitals and wherever health care is provided is an urgent priority.
“It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”
As of this morning 123 people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings have been rescued alive since January 12 when the earthquake struck. Each rescue takes about eight hours of work. Currently, 43 international urban search and rescue teams, comprised of 1,739 rescue workers, with 161 dogs are working in the country.
Many of the patients pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings are at grave risk of death from septicemia and the consequences of crush syndrome, a condition where damaged muscle tissue releases toxins into the bloodstream and can lead to death from kidney failure. Dialysis machines are vital to keeping patients alive with this condition, says MSF.
MSF has successfully landed five planes with a total of 135 tons of supplies into Port-au-Prince. MSF officials say another 195 tons of supplies will need to be granted permission to land in the airport in the coming days in order to continue MSF’s scale-up of its medical relief operation in Haiti.
To facilitate the arrival of aid and personnel, the U.S. State Department officials say they are closely consulting with the government of Haiti and the United Nations on dozens of international assistance flights, beyond U.S. civilian and military flights.
On January 20, 153 flights arrived – of those 38 were official U.S. flights.
Of the 330 arrivals from January 16 through 18, about half were civilian humanitarian flights, and less than 30 percent were military; 155 were civilian aircraft, including 84 from international governments and militaries.
The proportion of international flights is rising, U.S. Air Force officials said. On January 18, flights landed from: Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United States, Ukraine, and from the United Nations and numerous international aid organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the World Food Program.
The World Food Programme has placed a coordination cell at the airport in Haiti to assist with the prioritization of flights and the movement of humanitarian assistance through the airport to areas of need in Haiti.
Secretary LaHood also said today that the Maritime Administration has started preparing the high-speed passenger and vehicle catamarin, the Alakai, for relief duty in Haiti. The vessel is now docked in Norfolk, Virginia.
Originally built as the Superferry for the Hawaiian Islands, the vessel is capable of carrying up to 866 passengers, as well as relief cargo at a top speed of nearly 40 knots in the open ocean. It will be crewed with U.S. civilian mariners.
After operating for 16 months, the Hawaii Superferry stopped its interisland operations in March 2009 after the Hawaii Supreme Court overturned legislative action that allowed it to operate pending an environmental review. The court ruled that a state law allowing the Superferry to operate without a complete environmental impact statement was unconstitutional.
On July 2, 2009 a Delaware Bankruptcy Court granted the company’s motion to abandon both the Alakai and its sister Superferry, the Huakai, ending the possibility that the Superferry might return to Hawaii. The Huakai has also been activated for relief duty in Haiti.
“This ship will help our relief workers on the ground by allowing quick movements of people in and out of Haiti from various staging points,” said LaHood.
Other MARAD ships activated over the past week include the Gopher State and the Cornhusker State, based in Newport News, Virginia; the Cape May which is sailing from Norfolk, Virginia; and the Petersburg, which is based in Alameda, California.
Off the Haitian coast are 20 U.S. ships, with the floating hospital vessel USNS Comfort among them, adding medical capabilities and supplying about 600 medical personnel and 1,000 desperately needed hospital beds.
The USNS Comfort with 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000 bed hospital facility, and 600 medical personnel onboard arrived in Port-au-Prince harbor on Tuesday. Medical staff have already treated over 230 patients, U.S. Southern Command reports.
The Port-au-Prince port is functional and can receive 250 containers per day with the goal of 350 containers per day by January 25, relief officials said.
Roughly 20,000 U.S. troops will be supporting relief efforts in Haiti by January 24, U.S. military officials said today, adding to the 13,000-strong American force currently there.
The troops will be operating afloat off the Haitian coast and on shore, distributing provisions, assisting in medical operations and helping to maintain security.
Some 2,200 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are slated to arrive within 48 hours, military officials said.
Army Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, the top U.S. commander in Haiti, said on The Pentagon Channel today, “The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is a huge part of enabling us to extend our reach to places around the country that may need our assistance but we just haven’t been there yet.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the newly cleared road from the Dominican Republic remains the best option for the majority of incoming cargo.
Aid is getting through to more and more locations. Water is available at many water points throughout Port-au-Prince but quality remains an issue.
The UN World Food Programme has provided around three million meals to more than 200,000 people. The goal is to distribute 10 million meals over the next week, reaching 100,000 people a day.
Tens of thousands of people still do not have access to shelter. The Government of Haiti is identifying sites for temporary settlements.
In Port-au-Prince, banks were opened for the first time since the earthquake hit on 12 January. People formed long lines to get cash in order to buy food and other commodities that are slowly becoming available.
There are reports of people continuing to leave Port-au-Prince for unaffected areas. Today, some 45 buses arrived in Gonaives.
The U.S. military has contracted for the purchase of 50,000 hand held radios to distribute to the Haitian people.
As of the last night, 43,800 radios had arrived in Port-au-Prince. The remaining 6,200 radios are slated for delivery to Special Operations Command South by January 25 and flow into Haiti thereafter.
The Military Information Support Team in coordination with USAID will begin distribution of these radios immediately. Some 60,000 stickers, with the frequencies on them, and 60,000 hand bills that demonstrate, with pictures, how to operate the radio will be distributed with the radios.
This hand held radio initiative is part of an overall effort to reach the people of Haiti via FM/AM broadcasting of VOA programming and CJTF Haiti public service announcements, such as where to go to receive food
On Monday, January 25, a high-level Ministerial Conference on Haiti will be held to start discussions on the long-term reconstruction of Haiti, in preparation for a larger reconstruction conference to be held in the coming months in Haiti.
UN humanitarian chief John Holmes and UN Development Programme head Helen Clark will attend the Montreal conference. In preparation, the Government of Haiti has requested humanitarian partners to provide it with a comprehensive overview of the humanitarian needs and assistance requested to date.