Johannesburg – The South African-based Gift of the Givers rescue team had to clear a hospital of 600 bodies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday to bring the hospital into operation again.
Gift of the Givers chairperson, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said the organisation’s first search and rescue team had started operations on Monday before clearing out the hospital on Tuesday.
“Six of our team members will be deployed here [at the hospital] and will be joined by a seven-member Mexican team,” said Sooliman. “The other four members are going to a Cathedral to start suturing and treating the huge influx of patients arriving there.”
Just before the weekend the Gift of the Givers dispatched their first team to the island nation, which was struck by a huge earthquake, measuring 7.0 on January 12.
Death and destruction
Sooliman said the team had reached Port-au-Prince after an arduous nine-hour convoy journey from Santa Domingo on Saturday. He described a horrific scene of death and destruction, including lawlessness.
“At 04:00 [on Sunday morning] the team members got a huge fright as there were gunshots outside the compound; one bullet struck a gate close to the team,” said Sooliman. “Thankfully they are all safe.”
Sooliman said the team was assigned to an area which no team had yet reached at the time.
“The devastation was mind boggling, with no sign of life, only a litter of corpses and the sick stench of decomposed bodies along the way. The first stop was a Catholic mission, totally destroyed; five bodies were recovered. At another site nine more bodies were recovered,” he said.
On Wednesday the Gift of the Givers search and rescue team will move to another, unspecified, city which has not been reached by rescue teams yet.
Sooliman said access by roads was impossible and the team would get there by UN helicopters.
The team will be joined by a second team which left South Africa on an Air France flight to Paris on Monday night.
The second team comprises six specialists who are also advanced life support paramedics. As with the first team they are carrying R2.5m of heavy equipment.
Sooliman said it was clear that the first team had to be strongly supported to maximise the chance of survival and also to provide medical assistance to the nation.
“Hence, the six-member additional search and rescue team has been dispatched with the first four-member medical team,” he said.
Another 11 member medical team was expected to leave on Wednesday with large quantities of medical supplies and 10 more medical specialists will follow on Thursday.
Another 20 medical personnel are on standby in the days to come.