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Haiti Quake Victims Seek Help on Border

January 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Ray Suarez reports from a hospital organized by the Pan American Health Organization in the Dominican Republic, where many Haitians are seeking refuge after last week's earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Many of those fleeing Port-au-Prince have sought refuge in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor to the east.

Ray Suarez arrived at the border town of Jimani this morning. There, he visited a hospital organized by the Pan American Health Organization.

A warning: Some of the images are disturbing.

RAY SUAREZ: This little hospital has seen thousands of patients in just over a week. Hundreds have been stabilized in a day or two and moved on to an improvised recovery home. Others have waited, patiently suffering until help arrived.

We talked with this 34-year-old government worker’s husband. Juna’s leg was injured when the couple’s home collapsed in Port-au-Prince, and she lay in the rubble of her home for two days. Once rescued, she waited another five days before her first treatment in the Dominican Republic.

She’s in pain. Her right leg has ballooned in size. The treatment and the food, her husband says, have been sporadic. Later that morning, a team of American volunteers comes by, dresses her blood-soaked ankle, and tries to play catch-up medicine with injuries that had a long head-start.

Dr. Sacha Montas came to Jimani from the University of Michigan Medical Center.

DR. SACHA MONTAS: Someone who has that happen to them, where they have something laying on them for days, they get complications that wouldn’t have obviously if have you just got the injury. She has got a ton of swelling, the patient we just spoke to, and that swelling is certainly related to something laying on her for that long.

We have to watch it closely. Sometimes, you would do an operative procedure to address that, but, in this setting, particularly, it would introduce a huge risk of infection, which would actually probably be worse for the patient.

RAY SUAREZ: Three-year-old Moses Adoostin’s cast runs from his chest to his ankles. His mother, Kettelie, says tumbling cement blocks from their collapsing house landed on his legs, and they’re dislocated. The boy waited in pain for days until they could make the trip to the border. Mother and son will soon return to Haiti and cross the border again in a month for a follow-up visit.

Dr. Edwin Bravo is leading a team from Guatemala. For the moment, he’s the director of emergency medicine here, or, as he explained, in the midst of another 20-hour day, not hospital medicine, war medicine.

Bravo says the most serious threat he’s seeing now is infection in people who couldn’t be treated for a week before he sees them, lung infections from inhaling dust from the rubble. People who were trapped and unable to move had flies laying eggs in their wounds.

Outside Jimani, a temporary hospital — before last week, this was an empty apartment building. Now it’s a crowded medical facility doing 80 surgeries a day.

Marc Pinard is a Haitian-American doctor who has come here from New York. He’s treating people and sending them back to Haiti, where there is now help waiting on the other side of the border.

DR. MARC PINARD: Some of our physicians here daily will cross the border and assure there is medication, there is personnel, OK, to take care of them, because we have a lot of doctors here, a lot of physicians, OK, who can handle that.

RAY SUAREZ: In both facilities, international organizations and volunteers are supplementing the Dominicans, who rushed in from around the country. And more doctors and nurses are arrive with every jet that lands in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital.

JIM LEHRER: And, a few minutes ago, Margaret Warner talked to Ray about the situation now on the Haitian border.

MARGARET WARNER: Hello, Ray.

That was a fabulous piece from the hospitals in Jimani.

Where are you now?

RAY SUAREZ: I’m on the road from Jimani that crosses the border into Haiti. This is the last bit of the Dominican Republic before a very, very busy border crossing that sees two giant convoys every day heading from the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo into Port-au-Prince, which is the epicenter of the earthquake.

All during the day, you can watch heavily-laden semis come by here heading for the Haitian border, and then trucks heading back in from Haiti just empty flatbeds with tarps strapped to the top, ready to load up again at the nearest port, and come back into Haiti.

There’s also human traffic all day, people streaming back and forth from aid organizations, doctors, international volunteers, Dominicans who have been dispatched by their own government to help just over the border in their next-door neighbor.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, I had read that that road from the airport in the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince was very congested, could take 12 or 18 hours. But the flow looks pretty good behind you right now. What was it like from the airport to at least as far as you got?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, it was pretty busy. There were a lot of people coming in from various places in the world that converged on Miami to take that last leg to Santo Domingo.

And there was a lot of medical equipment, a lot of medicine being unloaded off the plane that we took in from Miami, along with a large team of volunteers from Korea University Medical Center in Seoul.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, some of the people in your taped piece in the hospital were Haitians who had clearly gotten across the border and into the Dominican Republic. But how freely are — is the Dominican government really allowing Haitians into their country?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, there’s been tense relationships between the two countries periodically in the past. And the border is very heavily patrolled.

But, in this case, there is beefed-up presence along the border to intercept sick people coming over, not to apprehend them or send them back into Haiti, but now to get them to the hospitals that are nearest the border with Haiti, triage them, stabilize them, and then send them in many cases further into the Dominican Republic, where they can get better equipment and specialists.

One of the doctors working at the Jimani hospital explained to me that they are at a bit of a lost there because some of the injuries are so severe, crushes, cranial injuries, abdominal injuries, that they have neither the equipment nor the specialists to really treat those cases there. So, they stabilize them as best they can, and get them on some kind of transport to the capital or to larger hospitals.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about the town of Jimani? I imagine it is not used to absorbing this much activity.

RAY SUAREZ: No, it’s usually a sleepier town. But, after all, like Tijuana, or El Paso, or Laredo, it is a border crossing that is used to a bit of international business, used to people changing money, selling and buying goods, jumping off of one bus and on to another at the border.

So, it seems to be handling it pretty well. It has become sort of an international aid town, with the markings on various vans and SUVs from a who’s-who of international organization, UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, and many, many others, including aid organizations that are less known to Americans that come from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, tomorrow, you are heading into Haiti. What are you particularly going to be focusing on in the next week?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, during the next week of reporting, we’re going to take a closer look at a couple of areas. You know, Haitians have been piling on to buses in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and heading into the interior, heading further into the countryside, seeking relief from the conditions in the capital.

But the Haitian countryside is not in any particular condition to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees. So, we will be taking a look at that. We will be taking a look at the role of the U.S. military and the Haitian government as it tries to reconstitute itself and get back into business. And we will be profiling one Haitian businessman who understands that, without work, there’s no money; without money, there’s no commerce. And he’s trying to jump-start the factories of Haiti again.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ray, good luck. And we will be watching with interest and I’m sure on the broadcast and online.

RAY SUAREZ: Thanks a lot, Margaret.

JEFFREY BROWN: The disaster in Haiti has brought an outpouring of charity. “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” reports more than $350 million donated so far.

And there will be more tonight with a two-hour international telethon, featuring a long list of celebrities and musical performances. It’s being carried by PBS and all of the major commercial television networks.