Haiti: The need is overwhelming

By Steve Ohnesorge - bio l email

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI  (WBTV) – Recently, I embedded with the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg and followed the troops on their journey to Haiti.

Many people from the Carolinas are there helping the victims of the earthquake which left a million Haitians homeless and killed thousands of people.

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In the sweltering morning heat, a young pregnant woman named Julia came to an old soccer field in Port Au Prince hoping she would be one of the lucky ones that day.

Julia is among a million Haitians who are homeless after an earthquake ravaged the country more than a month ago.

At the soccer field, hundred pound sacks of rice were handed out.

Samaritan's Purse, based in Boone, North Carolina, handled the food distribution under the security provided by the 82nd Airborne.

Chaplain David Johnston, who went to school at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and still has family in the Charlotte area, said, "The response to help the Haitian people has been overwhelming, but it is still heartbreaking."

Johnston is not only in Haiti for the soldiers who may need some guidance, but also was seen praying and comforting Haitian civilians in a makeshift hospital.

The 82nd Airborne has been ferrying patients to hospitals and airlift points for several weeks.

Another mission of the 82nd Airborne is helping in food distributions.  Security is needed says Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse "...because of how hungry and desperate the Haitian people are."

At the food distribution site where Julia went, 2,000 families were able to get rice.  She, however, was not among them.

Julia will come back another day.  (Click here to view Haiti: "Julia tries to get rice".)

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The distribution system "is not perfect" says Ken Isaacs of Samaritan's Purse.  Local government leaders hand out colored tickets to women and each day's distribution depends on which colored ticket a person has.

There have been accusations among the people that the local government leaders are not giving the tickets out randomly.

One of the aims of the distribution of rice is to have an effect on the overall market price.  The more rice that is handed out, the better chance there is that the price will drop.

"That will help more people, people who didn't get the free food, be able to afford to buy food," said Isaacs.

While the food situation is critical, another problem is developing which involves the need for shelter.

A million people are homeless and living in makeshift tents.  With the rainy season approaching, unless something changes, there will be trouble.  (Click here to view Haiti: "Living in makeshift tents".)

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There are at least 14 massive tent cities that have sprung up around Port Au Prince.  In most cases, the tents are made from bed sheets and blankets, and they are draped over sticks and branches.

The rainy season is just a few weeks away.

"They need shelter and they need it now," said Chris Toews of Samaritan's Purse.

His relief organization is expected to distribute thousands of sheets of reinforced plastic to help those who are living in the tents.

Franklin Graham, who heads up Samaritan's Purse, said the plastic will help, but when the strong winds come, or even the hurricanes in the coming months, "Those tents will blow down and the people will have a miserable life out here."

Some groups are sending reinforced tents, but officials say each one is expensive and there are not enough to go around.  Relief groups will continue to look for more options.  (Click here to view: Haiti: "The need for permanent housing".)

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THURSDAY:  Among the trips around Port Au Prince I took, was a journey with 82nd Airborne soldiers to see the smallest victims of the earthquake.  Thursday night, I'll takes you to several orphanages I visited around Haiti where the children live in fear of another earthquake.  See how they are surviving, Thursday, on WBTV News 3 at 6 p.m.

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FRIDAY:  It is not just the earthquake victims feeling the emotional effects of the disaster.  Relief crews and even soldiers are affected by it, too.  I'll have more on this part of the story, Friday, on WBTV News 3 at 6 p.m.

You can watch each of my stories by clicking on the Video Gallery up above.

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