(photo credit: Courtesy)
After returning from what he called the “total pandemonium” of Haiti, Alan Schneider, a member of the IsraAID emergency response team and the director of Bnai Brith World Center in Jerusalem, related some of his experiences in the devastated area in an exclusive phone interview.
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According to Schneider, the first IsraAid response team left for Port-au-Prince just two days after first learning of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12. With the aid of F.I.R.S.T (Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team), the team of 12 civilian volunteers including two doctors, five auxiliary staff medics, nurses, paramedics and former army medics were quickly assembled and flown out.
Some team members ran into visa difficulties in the US, so they split up, with some members being fast-tracked through Newark airport and the rest flying straight to the Dominican Republic, where the team regrouped.
The US government repeatedly refused to allow the IsraAID/FIRST team to board planes to Haiti, said Schneider, so the team chartered a plane to Santo Domingo with the aid of local contacts and the help of the World Bank.
Schneider described the scene waiting for them at the Port-au-Prince airport as “chaotic.” The team’s first stop was a small camp that had been set up there by the Mission Aviation Fellowship Haiti (MAF). MAF had also been IsraAID’s partner during its volunteer work in the Philippines.
IsraAID set up their own camp the following day. At this stage it was understood, said Schneider, that the airport would be serving as a base of operations for many different countries including France, South Africa, Qatar, the US and over twenty others.
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According to Schneider, the IsraAid team was the first response team to leave the airport and help victims out in the field. The medical team, lead by Dr. David Dorge, traveled first to the city’s general hospital. They found the building itself to be deserted and in danger of collapse, with hundreds of wounded people in the garden being treated by two American doctors with what few resources they had.
IsraAID was able to treat over 70 victims there with medical equipment flown in from Florida on the DC3 planes that arrived three times a day.
Word that medical assistance was available at the nearby football stadium had reached victims in the makeshift tent-cities. Local DJ Ben Constance had been driving around in a van telling locals to go to the stadium to get help. Schneider said that it was largely due to Constance that the victims trusted the response team.
“He allowed a certain measure of security as a natural leader to the locals who trusted him.”
The IsraAID team was the first one to arrive at the stadium, and was greeted by “about 12,000 injured [people], some of [whom] had broken limbs, multiple fractures, serious burns [and] lacerations. ...Most were very malnourished and in need of urgent medial help,” said Schneider.
Schneider said that other medical teams quickly followed, but expressed his frustration with the UN restrictions on medical equipment.
“Medical resources were being flown into the airport through Florida but due to UN restrictions and fear of security breaches the assets were not reaching the people.”
Schneider also expressed dissatisfaction with the US agents sent to the stadium to assess the situation there.
“They arrived as if to a war zone; with machine-guns, sunglasses and an attitude. In the days it took them to assess the situation, we had been treating hundreds of people,” he said.
“It was shocking: the days dragged by, and assistance wasn’t being given to the victims.”
While medical resources were not released from the airport, said Schneider, visitors were – including US marines.
“Military assistance was needed, but [the situation] called for a softer hand” said Schneider in a perturbed tone.
Schneider spoke highly of his team, which included 67-year old
grandmother of eight Sheva Cohen; suicide-bombing survivor Assaf
Perlman; Khaled Massala, a Beduin from Dabburiya; Dr. Eitan Heller and
“I am so proud to have been a member of the mission team,” he said.
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