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Clogged Haiti airport delays rescue teams

January 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Rescue teams are running into major delays getting to Haiti due to a big log jam at Haiti's international airport.The international response to the plight of the people in Haiti has been extraordinary to the degree that hundreds of trained men and women who are specialists in search and rescue have been unable to get to the devastated nation.

Seventy members from Los Angeles County left March Air Reserve Base on Wednesday, and they've been in Haiti for two days.

However, a search team from Orange County, Search Team 5, at the airport is in a holding pattern.

Search and Rescue Team 5 from Orange County arrived at March Air Reserve base at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Tons of food, water, medical supplies and search and rescue vehicles were unloaded from semitrucks. The firemen, doctors and paramedics assembled in a large hangar to await an air transport. They learned late Thursday afternoon that it will be a while.

So much help from the community is arriving at the Port-au-Prince airport that there's little room for the equipment that teams would need in their work.

"Everything is basically dictated by what the people in Haiti are telling us that they need and how fast they can get people and planes in there," said Maj. Don Traud, a March Air Reserve Base spokesman.

Currenty, there is no clear indication of when the Orange County team might be transported. Conditions at the Port-au-Prince airport will determine that.

Task Force leader Jim Bailey with the Orange County team said the members are anxious to join in the rescue operation.

"As I understand, there's six additional task forces prepared and ready to depart. I'd heard this morning on a conference call with FEMA that new York and Virginia had transport and were preparing to depart to Haiti, so we're ready and we're hoping we're the next ones in line," said Bailey.

The arrival of an aircraft carrier with all of its helicopters may help in clearing the airfields so that the search and rescue teams might be able to get into that as quickly as possible. A search and rescue team from the Sacramento Fire Department is in a similar holding pattern at the Travis Air Force Base, and they have no idea where they are on the priority list. But one expert in search and rescue said to be successful, time is not their friend.