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O.C. rescue team still waiting to go to Haiti

January 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Search-and-rescue teams from Orange County are still waiting to get on a flight that will take them to Haiti. The teams were supposed to leave Thursday morning, but they spent the night at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County.

Task Force 5 is a 70- to 80-man crew that includes firefighters, paramedics, structural engineers and trained dogs with their handlers. The team started assembling Wednesday night in Irvine, and they were in Riverside by Thursday morning ready to go.

It has to be frustrating for the team, just waiting to fly into Haiti. It's a logistical nightmare getting into the country, where the airport and ports have been severely damaged.

Part of the problem is they have a lot of equipment, so they can't just fly in on a helicopter. They need a big military transport to get the team where they need to be.

The airport can only handle so much at one time, and as relief pours in from around the world, relief agencies have to make tough decisions about who gets in and when.

"People there need basic human needs. They need water, they need food, they need medicine, so we're trying to balance bringing in a search-and-rescue team with also bringing in basic human needs," said Maj. Don Traud of the U.S. Air Force.

Air Force planners said they have no word on when Task Force 5 will get off the ground. It could happen Friday, or it may never happen. It all depends on the situation on Haiti, whether it becomes a recovery effort instead of a rescue effort.

The L.A. County search-and-rescue team Task Force 2 is currently on the ground in Haiti.

Meanwhile, Haiti's president Rene Preval said while he is overwhelmed by the losses, he is inspired by those willing to help.

"I'm very sad because a lot of people died. A lot of people are suffering," he said. "I'm very sad because my country is in great difficulty, but I'm very happy also to see how the world is with us, is helping us."