Rescuers describe 'Shabbat from hell'

Israeli field hospital treating dozens in Haiti; ZAKA rescues 8 students.

January 18, 2010 20:33
2 minute read.

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The large field hospital established by the IDF Medical Corps at 10 a.m. Shabbat local time was already treating dozens of patients four hours later, when its commander, Lt.-Col. Dr. Itzik Reiss, was able to take a breather and speak to Israeli health reporters via a conference call.

Children with severe fractures set only with cardboard arrived at the hospital for treatment. Some young patients had been freed from rubble but had to have limbs amputated due to severe gangrene, he said. Within a few hours, operations were performed.

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The hospital has an emergency room, pediatric, orthopedic, internal medicine, obstetrics and surgery departments, clinics and other facilities. The delivery room and premature baby unit are prepared to function but have not yet received any women or infants.

The patients started arriving after a local hospital, unable to function normally, announced the IDF facility's existence.

The Israeli facility, set up in very hot and humid weather, has enough equipment to function for about two weeks. The 121-member team has 40 doctors, including a psychiatrist, 20 nurses, 20 paramedics and medics, 20 lab and X-ray technicians and administrators.

Among the staff are Orthodox Jews who went to Haiti even though it was Shabbat. Reiss said they avoided performing unnecessarily tasks like shaving, but did everything needed to save lives. The military personnel are both regular army and reserve soldiers.

It was not clear how many desperate patients would reach the hospital over the coming days, he said. Reiss said he expected victims of infectious disease would start arriving soon.

Haitians were wandering aimlessly in the streets, Reiss said.

"It is very difficult. There is a bad feeling of destruction. It is very sad," he said.

The field hospital may continue operating under Israeli auspices after getting it restocked in two weeks, or it may be turned over to locals, he added.

Meanwhile, the ZAKA rescue and recovery contingent pulled eight students alive from the collapsed university building, after a 38 operation.

"You have to understand that the situation is true madness, and the more time passes, there are more and more bodies, in numbers that cannot be grasped. It is beyond comprehension," said Mati Goldstein, the head of the delegation.

The six-man team - four from Israel and two from Mexico - arrived in Haiti aboard a Mexican Air Force Hercules cargo plane, immediately after completing their work in recovery and identification in the Mexico City helicopter crash that killed philanthropist Moshe Saba and four others.

On arrival, the delegation was dispatched to the collapsed eight-story university building, from which cries could be heard.

After hours of work with rescue equipment provided by the Mexican military, the ZAKA volunteers succeeded in pulling the eight students out alive.

In a disturbing e-mail that Goldstein managed to send to ZAKA headquarters in Jerusalem, he writes of the "Shabbat from hell. Everywhere, the acrid smell of bodies hangs in the air. It's just like the stories we are told of the Holocaust - thousands of bodies everywhere."

Amid the stench and chaos, the ZAKA delegation took time out to recite Shabbat prayers - a surreal sight of haredi men wrapped in prayer shawls standing on the collapsed buildings. Many locals sat quietly in the rubble, staring at the men as they prayed facing Jerusalem.

At the end of the prayers, they crowded around the delegation and kissed the prayer shawls.

Due to the breakdown in communications in Haiti, the ZAKA delegation was unable to make contact before Shabbat with the IDF Home Front Command contingent that is now in the country.

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