Deep grief among the burdens of Haitian quake refugees

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — They streamed out from the darkness, carrying babies, suitcases and, in many cases, deep grief. Airmen assisted the elderly and those in wheelchairs up the ramp into the cargo hold of the C-17 cargo jet.

Airmen from McChord Air Force Base in Washington state provided a trip to Orlando, Fla., early Sunday for more than 180 Haitians with ties to the United States, but nothing could lift the grief-stricken hearts of some.

Anotte Saintvill, 48, lost two sisters, two nephews and a niece when the three-story building they lived in collapsed during Tuesday’s devastating earthquake that has prompted an international relief effort. Tens of thousands are feared dead.

She arrived the day before the quake from Miami to visit family. She never got the chance.

“I can see nobody,” she said. “Only one thing that I can see, and that’s dead bodies.”

The mission by the McChord air crew began early Sunday morning with a five-hour flight to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to pick up vehicles and equipment to aid the recovery effort. Then it was a three-hour flight to Haiti to drop off the equipment and get the evacuees on board.

Haitians aboard the flight or waiting under tents outside the terminal for later tent shipments said they’ll be relieved to leave the smell of death that hangs like a pall over the capital city of the Caribbean nation.

Applause erupted from the crowd sitting on chairs along the side of the cargo hold and on the metal floor when the C-17 touched down about 9:30 a.m. local time.

“Never, never seen this much death in my life.” Saintvill said, hanging her head, her eyes rimmed with tears. “Very hurtful.”

Some were critical of the relief effort so far, saying the aid was bottlenecked at the airport and wasn’t reaching the ailing populace.

“All the stuff is there,” said Jimmy Raymonette, a driver who with others was volunteering his time at the airport. “But getting it to the people, that is the problem.”

Added Ghada Gebara, an employee of a telecommunications company who left Haiti three months ago but returned to assist the relief effort: “Everything is here, but there’s not an organization to bring it to the people who need it.”

On a positive note, many Haitians who departed their home country were returning to pitch in with the recovery, she said.

Others left in mourning.

Two years ago, Paule Desvarieux’s sister had visited her in Miami to nurse her back to health after she suffered a stroke. Now, she is dead. Her brother too. Both died when their home collapsed in the quake.

“Nobody could find where they are,” she said.

Alex Antoine, 45, said his driver was injured by debris that fell during the quake.

“It was horrible,” he said.

The driver is in the hospital in stable condition. Unable to return to his vacation home in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, Antoine said he slept in the streets until he was finally able to get to the airport. He waited 10 hours for his flight and was critical of the U.S. response to the plight of its citizens.

Luckner Cadet, 52, was working in a yard when the quake struck. He ran to safety and watched a home collapse.

“Everyone is shaken,” said Cadet, accompanied by his daughter, 6, outside the airport terminal. “They don’t know what to do.”

He realizes he is fortunate to have a way out. Others, he said, are headed out to areas outside Port-au-Prince in search of aid and to escape the devastation.

Still others, he added, have nowhere to go.

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