First Air staff fuelled this Hercules before it departed from Yellowknife airport on Thursday. ((CBC))

First Air has dispatched two of its Hercules aircraft to transport emergency supplies to earthquake-devastated Haiti.

The northern airline has been contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to fly a water purification system to Haiti in the wake of Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake.

Both aircraft departed for Haiti on Thursday, with one of them leaving Yellowknife for Washington, D.C., to pick up the water filtration supplies.

The planes are expected to initially fly to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where the supplies will be unloaded and taken to Haiti.

Versatile aircraft

First Air sales director Mike Olson said the airline has the only two commercial Hercules aircraft in Canada.

"They're very versatile aircraft. They can carry anywhere from nothing to 45,000 pounds, probably 6,000 cubic feet," Olson told CBC News.

"You can bring the tail back down on them and unload cargo without having to have all the heavy lift equipment, and that's one of the reasons why it's such a unique airplane for this kind of help, relief effort."

First Air will also be sending a Boeing 767 cargo plane on Saturday to deliver water, food and first aid supplies to Haiti.

Airline officials say they're not sure how long their planes and aircraft will be needed for relief efforts.

Difficult to deliver aid


A map showing the epicentre of Tuesday's earthquake.

Emergency aid from around the world has begun arriving in Haiti and searchers continue to look for survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

However, relief groups have said that the deadly earthquake's destruction has made it difficult for them to deliver supplies to people.

The federal government announced Thursday that it's earmarking up to $50 million to match Canadians' donations to relief organizations responding to the earthquake.

The pledged amount is in addition to the $5 million Canada has committed in immediate aid, including emergency shelter, medical services, food, relief items, water, and sanitation services and protection.

A number of provinces and cities across Canada have also pledged support for the devastated Caribbean country.

Yukon donates $25K

The Yukon government will donate $25,000 to the Canadian Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, making it the first territory to offer financial support.

The Red Cross federation estimated on Thursday that between 45,000 and 50,000 people may have been killed in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

"The devastation wrought by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which I understand is the largest in two centuries, has taken a terrible toll on the Haitian people and on the infrastructure in the region," Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie stated in a release Thursday.

"Our hearts go out to them as they come to terms with the damage and havoc caused by this natural disaster."

Among the confirmed survivors in Haiti is former Yukoner Sylvie Savard, who was working in Haiti with Doctors Without Borders when the earthquake struck.

Savard, who had spent five years in Whitehorse working for L'Association Franco-Yukonnaise, told CBC News on Thursday that she is OK.

Northerners await word from loved ones

Meanwhile, some northerners with ties to Haiti have been trying to connect with family and friends at home.

"All the news that I have received has been indirect. There's no direct communication," Jean Colas, a Yellowknife resident who has aunts and cousins in Port-au-Prince, told CBC News on Thursday morning.

"So I've been in contact with my family in Montreal … but nobody actually in Haiti."

Colas, who grew up in Haiti, said watching media coverage of the quake's aftermath has revived memories of the years he spent there "and makes me realize how lucky that we are to live in a stable country."

He added that it is "difficult to see people struggling on a daily basis to survive, and then they're hit with things like that."

In Iqaluit, city planning and lands manager Michèle Bertol said she received word late Wednesday afternoon that her elderly mother, and her younger brother and his family in Port-au-Prince were safe.

"My sister received an email … it was a one-line email from someone she doesn't know, and it simply said, 'I'm writing on behalf of your brother to let you know that he is safe,'" Bertol said in an interview.

Bertol, who hails from the Haitian capital, said she felt numb and speechless when she first turned on the television late Tuesday and saw what had happened.

"It's a bit inexplicable when you see scenes of buildings and streets that you knew as a child and you can recognize them," she said.

"You know exactly what they used to look like before, and they were collapsed."