Georgians helping in Haiti

Walking through a crumbled landscape of Haitian streets, Marietta Red Cross volunteer Brigitte Gaillis struggled to take in scene after scene of devastation and human misery.

People seem to be everywhere on the hot, dusty streets of Port-au-Prince -- the walking wounded, families scrambling for supplies, bucket-toting children looking for water. All of them were trying to restore “some mechanism of life,” she said Saturday.

“People are fearful of the buildings,” Gaillis said. They are afraid that those structures that have not fully collapsed will fall and claim new victims. Many sleep outside.

Gaillis is among those Georgians trying to assist Haiti on the long road of recovery from Tuesday’s earthquake. Some are on the way to this ravaged place, and some are still scrambling to find transportation there. They include doctors, nurses, aid volunteers, communication specialists and even a group of 19 Atlanta police officers who hail from that country and who want to return home to help.

Gaillis is a veteran Red Cross volunteer, having worked before in Haiti and, mostly recently, in West Africa when flooding occurred. For the time being, she is with a larger group of Red Cross workers who have set up a base camp in a warehouse. They are starting to distribute goods such as tarps, kitchen sets and water jugs.

The struggle is physical, and emotional. She speaks French, and having been in this country before, she knows its people.

“They are resilient,” she said. As for herself, “You cope, but you never get used to it.”

It’s impossible not to get emotional, she said, when a person approaches you and calls you an angel.

Transportation remains troublesome. A group of 35 Georgian doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, who are working as part of the federal emergency response, was supposed to have already landed in Haiti, but their plane was diverted to the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands, said Gretchen Michael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is hoped that the group will arrive by today, she said. The main airport has struggled to handle all the planes coming in to Haiti.

Stone Mountain resident Dave Daigle, a communication specialist with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was sent to Haiti to help coordinate the emergency response. He will help set up the mobile hospitals, work with local authorities and share information among the many agencies.

His first sights of the stricken city have been “eerie,” Daigle said. The city itself is without power and mostly dark at night.

Along the streets, some Haitians have set up tables where they sell bananas and hard-boiled eggs, trying to make some money. At night these tables are lit by candlelight, Daigle said.

“I have seen a lot of injured folks -- people with bandages, people carrying others on makeshift stretchers,” he said.

Some metro Atlantans were in Port-au-Prince when the quake struck.

“I was in Port-au-Prince during the quake, but fortunately made it out uninjured,” said Emory student Nicole Dionne in an e-mail to her Emory colleagues.

Dionne was in Haiti working on her thesis as part of the school’s Global Health Program.

“The hospital I am doing my research at is treating hundreds of patients,” she said. “They are still flooding in days after the quake.”

She has been sending emails to Emory graduate Michael Ritter, who was also in Haiti, to see if she can help him find a place to stay at the hospital.

Ritter had been working on safe water programs in Haiti.

“Many of the buildings here in Leogane are destroyed,” Ritter said in a email. “The road from Leogane to Jacmel (is) blocked with landslides.”

He said he has a tent and a sleeping bag.

“The large yard outside ... is like a refugee camp for hundreds of people -- lots of tarps held up by wooden posts and a few tents,” Ritter said. “They just got a drum of gas and are using it sparingly -- apparently they’ve been running the generator for about an hour a couple of times each day.”

Describing another site at Trouin, he said, “They said they are just about out of drinking water at the camp and will probably be going to the river to get their water, but don’t have anything to treat it. They said there is a safe source over a mountain but haven’t been able to get there yet and may not be able to do so.”

Here in Atlanta, CDC workers have held a prayer meeting and are holding regular conference calls to update one another on the status of worker Diane Caves, who had been staying at a hotel in Haiti that collapsed. Caves, who a resident of metro Atlanta, was in Haiti working on AIDS issues and is still listed as missing, said CDC spokesman Joe Quimby.

“Diane is very well-loved at CDC, and we are very concerned,” said Ann O’Connor, the associate director for policy at CDC’s preparedness and emergency response office. “We remain very hopeful.”’

Some metro Atlantans who want to help are finding it hard to get to Haiti.

A Norcross-based group of doctors, called Flying Doctors of America, considered themselves lucky to secure four seats on a Christian mission group’s flight scheduled to leave today. They have plans to work in doctors clinic in a place about 15 miles north of Port-au-Prince, where there is electricity.

“Supplies is the big issue,” said group president Allan Gathercoal. “The clinic we’re going to support has run out of supplies.”

Nineteen Atlanta police officers who are from Haiti are trying to find flights to return to their homeland.

They want to find their relatives and help in the relief effort, said acting Chief George Turner.

“We’re doing everything we can to work things out so they can go,” the acting chief said. “It’s a very difficult time for them.”

Some of the officers have heard from their relatives in Haiti and some have not, said Officer James Polite, an APD chaplain.

“All are highly affected by it,” Polite said. “They’re more than ready to go.”

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.