haiti-athabaskan-boats

Inflatable boats pull alongside HMCS Athabaskan to take teams ashore. The sailors return to the ship every night.

Sailors aboard HMCS Athabaskan were told to prepare for frightened crowds as an aftershock rocked Haiti on Wednesday.

The Canadian destroyer is anchored about 1.5 kilometres off the coast near Léogâne, a small city at the epicentre of last week's devastating quake. Teams of sailors are going ashore to help with the relief effort.

CBC reporter Rob Gordon, who is aboard the Athabaskan, said it was quiet on the ship when the 6.1-magnitude aftershock hit Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time.

"All of a sudden it felt like we ran aground. The ship shuddered. There was a loud noise. You could feel it through the entire ship. And that was followed by a series of other noises and vibrations," he said.

At first, the crew rushed around the ship, unsure of what had happened. No one was injured and there was no damage to the ship, Gordon said.

The mission ashore continues a week after last week's major earthquake rocked the country.

"The captain did come on the ship's public address system and warned everybody that when they get ashore, it's gonna be like a brand new day and things will have changed," said Gordon.

"They've been told to expect the local population to be fearful and be prepared to deal with that."

'It's one of worst things I've ever seen, but one of the best days of my life.'—Master Seaman Phil MacMillan

On Tuesday, sailors helped the injured at a makeshift medical clinic. Among the patients was a teenage girl who lost a hand.

"There were little boys with their femurs broke. There was one young man who had his muscle coming right out of his thigh," said Master Seaman Phil MacMillan.

MacMillan said he believes he's making a difference and is eager to continue helping.

"It's one of worst things I've ever seen, but one of the best days of my life," he said Tuesday. "I'm ready to go back tomorrow. I can't wait."

The Athabaskan left Halifax on Thursday, along with the frigate HMCS Halifax. That ship is off Jacmel, about 30 kilometres southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

The sailors are among 1,000 Canadian Forces members in Haiti, primarily in the Léogâne and Jacmel areas. More Forces personnel are on the way, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.

MacKay said the teams in Jacmel have been clearing debris near the jetty and the surrounding town so that aid can get through. He said 80 to 90 per cent of the area had been destroyed in the 7.0-magnitude quake on Jan. 12.

MacKay said crews are also getting the airstrip back in order, ensuring aid gets in faster and relief teams can avoid congestion at the airport in Port-au-Prince.

"This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions," he said. "Canada and the Canadian Forces want to be there, want to assist in whatever ways possible as part of this international response."