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Last Day in Haiti, part 2

March 16, 2010

Dr. Bresler and his team were supposed to return to Philadelphia on Sunday.  Unfortunately, their trek home hit a snag, but gave them the opportunity to  fully explore Port-au-Prince for the first time since the earthquake:

Sunday morning we left Jeremie via a charter flight to return to Port Au Prince for our flight back home.  We checked in and discovered that our flight had been delayed for 5 hours.  We hired a tour guide who took us around the city and showed us some of the areas of destruction from the earthquake.

Words cannot describe what we saw.  I remember some beautiful buildings from previous trips that are now only piles of concrete and trash.  The court house, presidential palace, major churches and schools all demolished.  The smell throughout the city was horrible from trash and what must have been bodies decaying under the still huge piles of rubble everywhere.

When we returned to the airport we learned that our flight to JFK had been cancelled because of the weather.  After just visiting downtown we could not imagine where we would stay, and spent hours on the phone with American Airlines trying to get a different flight out of Haiti to anywhere.

After a lot of begging they were able to get us to San Juan for the evening with a return flight back to Philly on Monday night.  While our plans of work and patient care at home on Monday all changed, we were all relieved to know we wouldn’t be stuck in the streets of Port Au Prince.

We were too happy too fast. An hour later the flight to San Juan was cancelled because of a delay in Puerto Rico and the flight could not leave at night because there are still no runway lights in the Haiti airport.  Our worst fears were now a reality.

Luckily, we met a reporter from the LA times who was in the same predicament.  She had been staying at a hotel in Port Au Prince with all the reporters from CNN and doctors from all over the world.  We had been sitting in the airport for 8 hours with nothing to eat or drink.  The hotel had 4 rooms left which we quickly took and the 14 of us took one pickup truck to the hotel – 4 people in the front and 10 of us packed into the back.  The hotel was actually OK – it was directly across the street from one of the tent camps with thousands of homeless.  There were 20 foot walls with armed guards, though.

We were able to get dinner and shower although we all had to put on the same clothes since our bags were already checked.   In the morning we left at 6:30 to head back to the airport.  USAID was setup right outside the gate distributing food to what seemed to be a peaceful and grateful crowd.

What a day – while scary for us, the things we saw will change our lives forever!  Made it back to JFK at 5PM and took a bus back to Philly – It’s good to be home!

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