Haiti earthquake: Atlantans look for ways to help

When tragedy strikes, the impulse to help can be overwhelming.

Atlantans have responded to the earthquake in Haiti with an outpouring of support. Many have opened their wallets and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the relief effort. Others, such as Jim Dozier, have yearned for a more hands-on way to participate.

The Delta Air Lines pilot and several friends who also can fly helicopters want to put their skills to use. They came across an online plea from a hospital in northern Haiti that has dozens of doctors and idled medical equipment but few patients.

The main obstacle: They don't have a helicopter and they need someone to loan them one. "If we had somebody who had a helicopter ... we could do a lot," said Dozier, a former deputy with the Clayton County Sheriff's aviation unit who is now a beat cop in the Fulton County town of Chattahoochee Hills.

Carol Fipp, a Jacksonville-based  board member of the hospital, which is 75 miles north of Port-au-Prince, confirmed the need for air support. As of Monday afternoon, Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot, Haiti, had 28 patients, she said, yet it had capacity for 100.

"We've been desperate, we've been screaming," said Fipp, who's been working around the clock to get American doctors on flights to the island. Over 30 doctors are there, waiting, she said.

Despite calls to the "top levels" of the U.S. government and relief organizations, she said, only four helicopters had arrived with patients since Saturday.

"People are dying and we have surgeons sitting on their hands," she said.

Fipp said the Atlanta pilots had "really good hearts and big intentions" but that help from them sounded like a longshot. She needs patients now, from institutions that are already in place in Haiti.

Aviation expert John Hunt said the urge to help is admirable but added that the best way for people to save Haitians is to give money to big organizations with the infrastructure already in place.

"The onesey twosey stuff I would think would get in the way," said Hunt, who is the director of the aviation campus of Middle Georgia College in Eastman. The air traffic control expert participated in relief efforts when he was in the military, including help in the Philippines after an earthquake there. He said civilians who are trying to help can clog air space and hamper rescue operations.

"It's very easy for people with good intentions to run in there and muck things up," he said.

A lot of Georgians are opting for the simplest transaction: text messaging a $10 contribution to organizations in Haiti. The cellular companies are adding the amount to customers' bills if they send a text message that says "HAITI" to 90999.

New Jersey-based Verizon Wireless said that as of Saturday at 10 p.m. Georgians had donated over $500,000 to the American Red Cross effort in Haiti over its and other carriers' cellular networks.

The donations can take months to clear the billing process, but Verizon is assuming its customers will pay and is expediting the transfer of the funds to the Red Cross.

"It's great that we have such an outpouring of support," Verizon spokesperson Caran Smith said.

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