Heroes of Haiti

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Recently returned Clallam County Fire District 3 medics were floored by their trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Gardiner emergency medical technician Jay Jacobsen said the destruction was beyond his imagination.

Concrete homes collapsed, leaving most of the population in tent cities, said Sequim paramedic Bryan Swanberg.

People were scared to go into structurally sound buildings due to fear of more aftershocks, he said.

The 7.0 quake on Jan. 12 that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killed an estimated 600,000 people and left hundreds of thousands still missing.

The death toll might reach 1 million as buildings are cleared and bodies are discovered.

Jacobsen said locals find the stench from bodies buried by buildings unbearable, so they pour gasoline into the cracks and ignite it.

Left Feb. 4

He, Swanberg, Sandra Boudrou, a Sequim paramedic, and a team of nurses from Seattle flew to Haiti on Feb. 4, to provide medical assistance.

Sequim paramedic Matt Newell arrived the day before the group left and returned Feb. 22. Boudrou returned to Sequim on Feb. 25.

Swanberg anticipated treating amputees and malaria but most significant problems had been treated before their arrival.

They mainly provided basic medical needs and follow-up with medications.

The most frequent problems encountered were malnutrition, scabies and worms.

People waited in line to receive anything the medics could spare, such as multivitamins.

Hungry orphans

"(Haitians') presentation, is clean but they are washing their garments in dirty water where people had urinated, or died nearby," Swanberg said.

The quake left food scarce for many orphanages in and around Port-au-Prince. Medics delivered rice to a few.

Swanberg said the orphanages' buildings seemed safe, but the children hadn't eaten for several days.

Port-au-Prince has more than 200 tent cities, makeshift homes of bed sheets, cardboard, scrap wood and bricks for flooring.

Boudrou compared them to children's refrigerator-box home forts.

Slowly people are returning to their livelihoods, reopening markets and barbershops.

"They had nothing but they are moving forward," Swanberg said.

Hot and humid

Garbage service has begun again and some buildings are being cleared out, Boudrou said.

The medics camped in a country club tennis court that overlooked a tent community of more than 100,000 people.

The temperature is about 90 degrees with high humidity, but the rainy season is approaching and the medics are concerned about more damage.

The tent city by where they camped is near a hillside that has high potential for landslides.

"It's a disaster inside a disaster," Swanberg said.

"It could get worse very quickly."

Boudrou is worried those in makeshift homes won't be able to stay dry or healthy when the rains come.

Malaria threat

She said tents from charitable organizations continue to come, but thousands still are without homes.

"A lot needs to be torn down before things can be rebuilt," Jacobsen said.

He believes the next major issue will be malaria.

The medics said they chose to go because they didn't want just to give money to an organization and hope for the best.

Jacobsen said supply distribution will take time because only so many people are distributing goods. Swanberg said supplies are sitting in storage, but distribution relies on military and volunteer workers.

Boudrou believes the most needed items are water and shelter.

Fast response team

Swanberg plans to establish a local group that immediately can go to

disasters because he was disappointed about how long it took him to get a team into Haiti.

The four medics paid their own expenses. Clallam County Fire District started a local fund called Haiti Relief Fun to help offset their costs.

Jacobsen said the fund is a good way to help more directly in a local way.

"Bryan has good contacts, and it's going to go straight to getting supplies there," he said.

Boudrou and Jacobsen said they found Haitians to be beautiful, thankful people.

Jacobsen said he'd like to return if a relief team needed him because the trip changed his mind-set.

"I have a greater appreciation of the blessings in my life and try to enjoy those more," Jacobsen said.

Swanberg said it was life changing, too.

"It's hard to fathom," he said, "how good we have it here."

Reach Matthew Nash at

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