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Haiti Field Notes: Canada's efforts to help

When I headed for Trenton late at night, I didn't know if I was actually going to be on a flight to Port au Prince. The plane was full, we were told by the military. There's only room for 12 members of the media. In the end, they managed to squeeze in quite a few more... including me, and all of our gear.

IMG_9162.jpgAmong other things, that meant a so-called fly-away satellite system. A portable dish - and all the other electronics needed to let it send TV signals live from pretty much anywhere in the world. It's called portable... though in this case, it's portable in the sense that a car is. You can move it - and it weighs about the same.

By dawn, three planes had taken off - two old Hercules turbo-props, and a new C-17 cargo plane that was stuffed full of soldiers, media, boxes and crates... oh, and a search and rescue helicopter. It fit comfortably in the middle of the huge cavern.

The enormous jet engines roared to life and easily lifted it all. We zoomed down the continent in a little over 3 hours. And then, we spent another 3 circling over Haiti. No room to land... no room on the crowded tarmac at Port au Prince, where dozens of planes from across the globe had converged.

Field Notes 1US Coast Guard cargo planes, jets from Belgium and Mexico, search and rescue teams from China and France... with their dogs, of course. All unloading huge flats of - well, of stuff. Wrapped in plastic, it was impossible to tell what was what. Still, a lot of it didn't seem to be going anywhere. Too much of a good thing, all at once, caught in a relief traffic jam.

By this point, the Canadian DND  plane was being at the back, guarded by heavily armed soldiers at the front. The only threat here seemed to be from the pile of photographers, jostling to get an iconic picture of Canada, positioning itself on the front lines of the war against humanitarian indifference. We were here, and ready to help.

Another group of Canadians was eager to leave. They had been here during earthquake and had had enough of the devastation. On this afternoon, they sat under a large tree at the edge of the tarmac.

IMG_9159.JPGI talked to quite a few of them. Listening to stories of buildings collapsed, people panicking... friends lost. Nurse Marilyn Mackilroy told me how she saw her friend Yvonne Martin killed when the guesthouse she was in was flattened. She was saddened by the loss, saddened also by the fact that she had not been able to call the woman's family to tell them what had happened. Tears came to her eyes.

Another Canadian told me about the horror of seeing people dead and dying. And the living growing increasingly frustrated - angry, even - at what they considered delays in getting aid. Get ready, she said... it's going to get ugly out there.