In a single instant of Mother Nature’s fury, the island nation of Haiti was transported into the worst nightmare of 3rd world conditions. Considering that Haiti wasn’t a booming economic scene to begin, it’s amazing to see that there is always a lower depth in a crevice in which to sink.
As we’ve been watching the heart wretching visuals of people in dire need, there has been no delay in a world community willing to step up to the plate with assistance. But even a multinational rescue effect of willing workers and supplies cannot overcome the logistics of an area suffering from almost total inaccessiblity.
Without fanfare, and expecting none, my heart swells with pride as I watch our US military pave the path for relief efforts to flow. For without their central organization – allowing for the distribution of supplies from water, food and medicine to heavy moving equipment – all is for naught.
Within 24 hours, plans of action were underway. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson steamed towards Haiti, slated to arrive on Thursday, to facilitate airlift support. Forsakening it’s usual cache of fighter jets, the supercarrier was laden with 19 helicopters to dispatch supplies to more remote regions, inaccessible by potentially damaged roads. The carrier is also outfitted with water-purification equipment that can produce 1.8 million litres of drinking water a day, as well as hospital beds.
Other Defense Department ships and Coast Guard vessels – from small ships to destroyers to cutters – were underway with some limited humanitarian supplies to start, and helicopters.
Since information was preliminary, conditions on the ground were as yet unclear. So SOUTHCOM first dispatched a 30 man team of U.S. military engineers, operational planners, a command-and-control group and communication specialists. Ferried by two Puerto Rican Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft, the team assessed the location that would be at the heart of relief efforts – the airport – was a major problem. With shallow waters and a damaged port, rapid repair and use of the airport was integral for aid to arrive. The air control tower was inoperable, and communications between ground and air impossible to coordinate.
Chaos reigned at Haiti’s Port-au-Prince airport, delaying planeloads of desperately needed supplies.
The situation forced delays for arriving aircraft Thursday. At one point, Nelson said, there were 44 planes parked at the airport, but only two fuel trucks to refuel the planes and two tow carts for moving the planes.
One very large plane was on the tarmac in need of more fuel and it took more than six hours to get that plane out of the way.~~~
The Federal Aviation Administration imposed a “ground stop” for most of Thursday for aid aircraft heading to Haiti, because the crowding preventing new planes from arriving until existing planes departed.
The agency later canceled the stop, opening the gates for U.S. planes bound for Haiti with relief workers and supplies. But the FAA cautioned that some planes were kept flying in holding patterns off Haiti “in excess of three hours,” before they were cleared to land. The FAA said holding delays could continue for the next several days.
An airport that normally handled 25 flights daily in an undamaged state now had to rapidly be transformed into a facility that could handle twice that load at minimum. That task fell to some of the first US military responders on the ground – the 1st Special Operations Wing out of Hurlburt Field in Florida.
Tuesday night, the 1st SOW put aircrew members into crew rest. They received the official tasking to support relief efforts early Wednesday morning. Their mission was to set the stage for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other humanitarian assistance groups by clearing runways, establishing air traffic control operations and rendering medical aid as appropriate.
“The 1st SOW is postured to respond to worldwide contingencies at a moment’s notice,” said Col. Greg Lengyel, 1st SOW commander. “Southern Command tasked us to be among the first military units on the ground because they knew we could.”
Twenty-six hours after the earthquake occurred, a 1st SOW MC-130H Combat Talon II arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a Special Tactics Team from Air Force Special Operation Command’s 720th Special Tactic Group, a security team and planners, and a small satellite communications package that provided rapid-response communications capabilities.
Twenty-eight minutes later, combat controllers with the Special Tactics team took control of the airfield.
Since then, MC-130H Combat Talon II’s, MC-130PCombat Shadows and C-130E’s from the 1st SOW have continued to deliver equipment to Haiti, such as generators, vehicles, fuel, food and water, and communications packages, as well as specialty teams like Special Operations Medical units and Special Tactics Teams.
Twenty eight minutes… amazing. But the Air Force isn’t stopping there. Reviews on how to further increase traffic at the main airport – including using aluminum ground matting as an option to increase ramp and runway capacity – as well as open other damaged airports, should be completed today.
Supplies by seaport were another problem. A joint US assessment team was assessing ways to repair and expand the heavily damaged port’s capacity.
Port cranes were submerged in the water, cargo containers were thrown in the water or tossed on their sides, and an oil spill — possibly caused by a broken pipeline — fouled the harbor’s waters, the Coast Guard said.
“The main thing is there is significant damage to the pier where ships would normally moor up,” after Tuesday’s earthquake, Coast Guard Lt. Commander Matt Moorlag said. “It’s impossible to moor up there right now.”
One nearby landing option for small boats, Moorlag said, is the Haitian Coast Guard base at Killick, but that would only accommodate vessels of about 40 feet. Another port at Gonaives, Haiti, could potentially take larger vessels. “They believe the highway to Port-au-Prince from Gonaives seems to be intact,” he said.
Crowley Maritime out of Florida’s Port Everglades has 420 containers of food for USAID from Texas… but the question remains, how to deliver it? From yesterday’s WSJ…
Maersk Line operates a small ship that unloads containers from larger vessels and then brings them to the port. That vessel is currently anchored off the coast of Port-au-Prince, as the company tries to determine how it can be put to use.
Shipping companies are now examining other areas in the vicinity to see if they can find a place that could serve as a makeshift unloading area for ships.
“What we are doing and what others are doing with various agencies is to see if there is a suitable, workable location anywhere around the harbor where we could get a vessel,” said Mr. Miller.
However, any new location must first undergo a survey to determine whether the earthquake tremors have changed water depths or dumped debris that could cause vessels to run aground.
Even if they are able to create a new area where ships can dock, it would likely be heavily constrained and unable to handle high volumes, say people in the industry. One of the biggest problems is the lack of any stationery crane to unload shipping containers.
According to Reuters today, thousands of US troops have been mobilized for relief assistance in building housing camps, debris removal, rescue operations, supply distribution, and security.
The Coast Guard has deployed four ships as well as air support for evacuation efforts. The Navy destroyer USS Higgins, with about 320 sailors on board, arrived on Thursday.~~~
* An amphibious readiness group with three ships — the USS Bataan, the USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall — will take the Marines to Haiti. This group can produce its own purified water.
* A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, with a crew of between 4,000-5,000 sailors on board, is on the way and will arrive in the area by Friday, with 19 helicopters on board. It has three operating rooms, several dozen hospital beds and can produce fresh water.
* The much-anticipated hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will not arrive until around Jan. 22. It has 12 operating rooms and 250 hospital beds. The Pentagon says the Comfort is a slow-moving vessel and will need a week to arrive in Haiti.
* Two additional ships, the USS Underwood and the USS Normandy, with 400 and 250 personnel, are expected to arrive on Jan 16.
Despite the Herculean efforts of the US military, the going is still slow. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it is nothing short of miraculous technology and the sheer talent of the US military that access to Haiti can be improved so rapidly.
It does seem that an impatient media, as they did during Katrina, highlights what has not yet been accomplished without paying due attention to what *has* been accomplished in what is a daunting task at best. Fox News reports the “calm and dignity” of Haitians is near a “breaking point”. Defense Secretary Gate ruled out air drops in order to minimize the possibility of riots, comprised of those desperate for supplies, or black market profiteers. But thus far, the Haitians and world relief workers appear to be tackling the devastation with admirable spirit and aplomb.
I, for one, could not be prouder of our US forces. Too many view our military as just a war machine, filled with young men and women they believe to be anxious for the taste of blood. It is instances like this that should shake the very foundations of their perspectives. Were it not for their readiness for battlegrounds… possessing the talent for building communications stations and emergency facilities where there is nothing… any relief effort by the world would merely result in inefficient chaos, despite all good intent.
It’s a great day to be an American.
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.