It's an amazing sight. ABC7 Photographer Sean Lewis and I arrived in Port-au-Prince Monday afternoon, anticipating seeing tremendous destruction, which we did, but we also started to see some positive things.
PREPARING FOR DEPARTURE
Unless you are traveling with a group or the military, getting into Port-au-Prince is extremely difficult. We traveled with a group of doctors that left Florida early Monday morning.
In Fort Pierce, Florida, we boarded a plane from an organization called Missionary Flights International, to be flown to the Port-au-Prince airport.
We flew with mostly doctors and nurses from Denver, Colorado. As soon as we landed, that group went directly to a hospital about five minutes from the airport and immediately got to work, providing desperately needed medical aid to the people sitting at that hospital for several days, waiting for doctors.
"I think we're all pretty scared, pretty nervous, exhilarated and excited as well," said Emily Mugly, a nurse from The Children's Hospital in Denver, before boarding the flight. "I don't know which one's taking over at this point, but we're all scared, and I think we'd be foolish if we weren't scared."
"Our prayers and thoughts will be with you all until you have a safe return. Safe travels," a flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker as the plane approached Haiti.
TOUCHING DOWN IN PORT-AU-PRINCE
At the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, about six miles north of Port-au-Prince, the surrounding area is mainly for private planes. In the opposite direction, near the landing runway, is where huge military transport planes are located. Military helicopters and a big tent city have been set up, where most of the military is working from.
In front of the airport, there's a ton of activity. A group of Haitian citizens with American visas were trying to get on a plane and get out of here. Farther down the exterior of the airport is where officials were accepting American citizens with U.S. passports to get on a plane and get out as well.
Farther down from that area, about another block, an air strip is set up to distribute food, water and supplies. That is where there was some reported rioting going on earlier Monday. Police reportedly had to use tear gas on the crowd to calm things down.
When we arrived at the airport, we weren't quite sure how we were going to get around. We're carrying 80-pound backpacks, and you can't just call a cab here in Port-au-Prince, clearly.
We ran into some missionaries at the airport who asked us where we were going. We told them where we wanted to end up, and they said, "We need to give you a ride." It was really a fortunate thing, because that's how we got a tour through Port-au-Prince.
As we emerged from the airport, men surrounded us offering services to drive, to translate for us or to guide us through the city. It doesn't take long as you walk out of the airport before a crowd gathers around you.
"Right now, in some parts -- when you drive in Haiti, you use landmarks," said our driver, Doug Rikley from Ohio. "There's no road names [left]. So right now, some of the roads we get into, we're getting a little confused where we're at, the destruction is so bad."
We drove past a park with hundreds of people camped out on the grass. "[They're] tenting out because they don't want to be in their house," said Rikley. "Either they don't have a house or they're just staying out because they're still having aftershocks. They're finding parks like this. It's just amazing what they come up with."
Rikley described the experience of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Tuesday, Jan. 12. "This was an apartment complex, and everything just started to shake and we all kind of looked at each other and just didn't know what was going on. It was just hard to stand up; I mean, it was just literally tossing us back and forth."
Rikley has been living here for a couple of years, and offered a lot of insight into what the earthquake was like, what the Haitian people are like, including the massive amount of destruction that they have had to endure.
Making our way from the airport up to a very large hill Monday afternoon, I didn't see a single body in the street. They have cleared most of them out. However, when you go by the destruction, you can still smell the death inside. Not all of the bodies have been removed from underneath the rubble.
We passed a market that was just bristling with life. Our driver/guide said that is a typical sign -- a very good sign -- and it shows that people are starting to get back to normal, at least in the smallest ways that they can.
Comparing the damage done in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina to the damage in Port-au-Prince from the 7.0 earthquake, there was a massive amount of destruction in both events. But the size of Haiti is enormous, comparatively, when it comes to the death toll. The two cannot be compared.
Physically, the interesting thing about the earthquake in Port-au-Prince is that you would see four- and five-story buildings completely collapsed down to one story. And you could tell there was enormous death inside. But then you see two more buildings that are totally normal. Then you see another two, three, four, five buildings that are completely collapsed. So the destruction is intermittent, but enormous.
When I was in New Orleans, Katrina's massive flood destroyed everything for dozens of miles -- absolutely nothing left. And it was amazing that Katrina's death toll was so low. That's the big difference between these two catastrophes.
AMERICANS WORKING HARD TO SAVE LIVES IN HAITI
As sad as the situation is, there's still something very impressive going on here. The show of support has been inspiring, and not just from the various governments that are flying in military and aid supplies. There are individuals you run into here that are on their own, trying to do whatever they can.
I ran into a producer from Beverly Hills who said he saw the earthquake on television and within two days was able to get here through the Dominican Republic, gather a team together, and start doing triage work, because he is a former military man and medic. He's been here working frantically for the past few days.
"My main focus was treating people who had been injured, and there's a lot of people injured," said Beverly Hills resident James Clark. "So I ended up hooking up with a Cuban doctor, and we're doing triage and field surgery in the streets right now."
What are you seeing? What kind of injuries? What do you need?
"Broken bones. I've got a young man, he's 20 years old, he's got a broken pelvis. I can't even move him. I can't take him in for X-rays, I can't do anything because we don't have the facilities. I've got other broken bones where they're getting massive inflammation, they're getting infections. So what I'm in need of right now is broad-spectrum antibiotics, anything that I can do to treat right now, because we don't have the way to bring them to major hospitals that have the ability.
"Here's what's really sad that people don't know about: We are re-treating injuries. The word is getting out about us and our team, and we have injuries that have already been treated at the local hospital and they're having to be redone. They're majorly infected, they didn't clean them out."
Is it dangerous out there?
"No. Listen, that's a misnomer," said Clark. "There's always danger when you go somewhere where people are stressed and they're trying to get food and help for their families. But generally speaking, the Haitian people are good people. They see us, they know we're here to help, and they're not looking to cause trouble. They're looking to get help. So contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be armed with a million people -- you just need to come down and do something."
At the airport, I ran into Maggie Higgins, a medical student from Chicago on her way home. The earthquake hit during her visit.
"The team came together and things just started getting done," said Higgins. "People were bringing out towels. We separated wounded from non-wounded. We set up a little surgical table. We had some generators that worked, and we were able to run, so we pulled out big fluorescent lights, put them out in the field, and worked, worked, worked." Far beyond the experience of a pre-med student.
"My main job was cleaning out who-knows-what from people's gashes and heads -- picking out using my forceps to get little blocks of cement out," said Higgins.
"We saw the earthquake on television, and like everybody, we wanted to do something," said James Clark. "So I called a couple friends, started putting together a group on my Facebook. I got like 5,000 people on Facebook, told them I was going. I'm former special-operations in the Army, I'm a medic, so I'm like, 'Let's see if we can put together a team,' and we started getting people together."
Clark implored Southern Californians to donate what they can.