Angelenos still looking to help Haiti

Mikael Gartner and girlfriend Laura Drost embrace after being apart for the longest amount of time in their one-year relationship, 16 days. Gartner was on the Urban Search and Rescue task force that deployed for Haiti on Jan. 13, 2010.
Mikael Gartner and girlfriend Laura Drost embrace after being apart for the longest amount of time in their one-year relationship, 16 days. Gartner was on the Urban Search and Rescue task force that deployed for Haiti on Jan. 13, 2010. Marla Schevker/KPCC

Los Angeles County firefighters recently returned from a 14-day rescue mission in Haiti that began Jan. 13. Upon returning Jan. 27, the team had rescued nine people and helped save two others.

They could hear her voice.

Her husband and other family members had been scratching at the wreckage, where they hoped she might be, and at last they heard her voice. They ran to the Los Angeles County Urban Search and Rescue task force that was just down the street and together they began to save this woman from the rubble that had once been a building.

A rescue that could have taken 25 hours happened quicker thanks to heavy equipment brought by the USAR team. They began to talk to the woman as they slowly clawed away at the ground only a few feet away from her. Her hands trapped her but her body was in a void. She could still breathe, talk and listen to her rescuers as they tried to get to her.

The rescue team worked until they were only a few feet away. They could pass her water and IV fluids and although they could see her, they couldn’t quite reach her yet. A small man from the team was finally able to fit through the tiny hole. While it was a tight squeeze for them both to get out, USAR eventually saved another life, shared Task Force Leader Chief Terry DeJournett.

“We were looking for confirmed victims,” DeJournett said. “We knew there were a lot of victims, but getting out and finding them, now that’s the hard part.”

The USAR task force, located in Pacoima, Calif., set out on Jan. 13 for a 14-day rescue and reconnaissance mission shortly after the Haiti earthquake hit. Upon returning on Jan. 27, the team had rescued nine and assisted in two other rescues.

“I’d like to say that we weren’t in over our heads but at times we were,” DeJournett said. ”This was an incredible mission.”

The work of the Los Angeles County Fire Department was part of a worldwide effort as servicemen and women, charity organizations, and others from around the world converged in Haiti over the last month to offer help and money to dig people out of their devastated city. Although Angelenos were quick to respond to the devastation, their labors continue through efforts such as USAR’s deployment and Mission Haiti, a Holy Family Church organization.

In April 2009, Mary Nally and 12 other members of the Holy Family Church met up, as a part of Mission Haiti, with Father Tom Hagin’s organization Hands Together. They built schools, passed out food and gave Hagin’s organization the much-needed resources their parish had collected.

While Mission Haiti did a lot of work to help the country prior to the earthquake, that has since been destroyed. There is no doubt that they will continue their efforts to help rebuild and to help feed those who are struggling. They have already raised close to $300,000 and money is still coming in.

“It really feels like they are starting over, [but] our community is ready to go,” Nally said. “There have been lots of tears and lots of phone calls. People are ready to jump in and work.”

Another L.A. organization, the Salvation Army, is doing what they can to help people from Haiti. Dawn Wright, the director of communications for the Southern California Division of the Salvation Army, said they are not only assisting those in need but also encouraging others to help.

“The Salvation Army is always one of the first responders to earthquakes in the area,” Wright said. “Supporters can help the Salvation Army's efforts by texting the word HAITI to 52000 to donate $10, calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY or going to www.SalvationArmyUSA.org.

For many members of USAR, this was their first disaster of this caliber. Out of the 72-member team that was sent to Haiti, less than 12 of them had ever been on a collapsed, full-team response. The experience has helped the USAR team to be more prepared for the future.

“That speaks to the character, the work ethic and the team work of this team,” said Blue Team Leader Patrick Rohaley. “The training program has gotten them to this point and now we have that much more depth within our knowledge base, and the capabilities of this team and organization, to respond to disasters of this type and work very efficiently to produce as many life saves as we can.”

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