Offering relief: Volunteers help in Haiti

January 21, 2010 3:21:59 PM PST
A plane from Chicago brought relief supplies and volunteers to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. ABC7's Ben Bradley was the only Chicago television reporter on the United Airlines flight to Port-au-Prince. The roundtrip flight left O'Hare Airport at 7 a.m. Wednesday and returned at 9:15 p.m.

The plane only spent 2 1/2 hours at the airport, unloading volunteers and supplies, before taking off with Haitian evacuees. Many of those evacuees were reunited with family in Chicago. Others are traveling across the U.S.

Those volunteers are now tending earthquake survivors and working to rebuild the country. Most had previous training- and started preparing for the devastation before the plane took off from O'Hare Airport.

"I think everybody is just gathering their heads, thinking about what to do when they touch down," said Zak Beck.

"I expect chaos. My thoughts are unimaginable as to what's going on," said Dr. Ruben Cohen.

Dr. Ruben Cohen helped at Ground Zero on September Eleventh, has been medical missions of mercy in Africa, and is now in Haiti.

"When I saw that I said, 'Why? I can go make that patient comfortable, Why should I not go?' Yes my wife is pregnant, I have a little girl at home but this is the right thing to do," said Dr. Cohen, medical volunteer.

At 11:10 a.m., the flight touched down at the Port-au-Prince airport. The first thing visible-- the lines of people. Many small children, all waiting for days to evacuate the country. Beyond an airport fence: Haitians with no chance to leave and little patience left.

William McNulty, a former Marine from Winnetka, greeted fellow medical volunteers and briefed them on what to expect.

"Right now at the General Hospital, the largest hospital in Haiti," said McNulty, medical volunteer, Operation Rubicon, "all the patients are on the street in fecal matter, women giving birth, amputations in the streets right now."

McNulty has been in the country for a week. He and these fellow medics from Chicago will be here indefinitely.

"In Iraq, you see fresh wounds. Here we are seeing wounds that are 7 days old now. Gangrene, crushed femurs," said McNulty.

Despite all the training, volunteers said there's no real way to prepare.

Most of the people from the United Airlines flight are now sleeping in tents, the agencies they work with supply them food and water. The goal: be a help, not an additional burden to a country whose resources are already scarce.

The humanitarian flights continue. United has another one returning to O'Hare Thursday night.