Outside editorial: Saving Haitains

Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Maralon Dorelas sees his son's lifeless leg through the rubble of tons of concrete, wood and aluminum piled on top of him. All he can do is keep watch, waiting for help to recover the body more than a week after Haiti's earthquake.

Tens of thousands of dead are being buried in mass graves, the port in the capital city is still being cleared so that big ships can bring aid and there are 1,400 planes waiting to get into Port-au-Prince to offer relief - 10 times the number able to land daily.

Then there are the orphaned children, thousands upon thousands of them in a poor country where almost one in five kids already was orphaned.

Haitians are surviving anywhere they can find shade and a sense of protection, desperate to get to another part of the island, to find family, to get a sense of normalcy back in a small nation that was just starting to recover from four back-to-back storms in 2008.

Americans watching the heartbreaking scenes on Web sites and television are right to wonder: Why are rescue and aid efforts taking so long?

One lesson that has emerged so far: Best to put the military in control at first to get medical care, food and water to the ravaged areas. Initially, President Obama put the U.S. Agency for International Development in charge, but as the people of South Florida and New Orleans learned from personal experience, the military can get the job done quicker.

Remember a frustrated Kate Hale, Miami-Dade's former emergency management director, after Hurricane Andrew destroyed vast areas of South Florida in 1992? She stood before the cameras demanding that the federal government move faster: "Where the hell is the cavalry on this one? We need food, we need water, we need people ... (or) we are going to have more casualties."

A day later, 2,000 troops arrived.

Today aid is starting to get to Haiti's earthquake victims in a coordinated fashion. Critics like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez scoff that putting the U.S. military in charge sends a wrong signal about U.S. intentions. President Rene Preval knows that's not true and has welcomed aid. He seems to understand that turf wars will only delay help.

U.N. forces that provided security before the quake have been decimated, so it will require some patience before they can return to full force.

And, of course, President Preval and other Haitian leaders must be involved in any plans. But in a crisis, what must matter most is saving lives, not face.

The priority now should be the sick and injured, with many still lying outside destroyed hospitals as volunteer medical personnel try to stabilize patients without the most basic medical equipment.

On Thursday, Sen. Bill Nelson announced that 200 injured children were being cleared to arrive, many to South Florida, for treatment that they simply can't get in demolished hospitals without electricity. Another good sign.

The bottlenecks seem to be easing to help Haiti's beleaguered people. The cavalry from around the world has arrived.

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