Desperate Americans wait and plead to exit Haiti


Published: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 8:26 p.m.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Cradling babies and limping on crutches, hundreds of Americans waved their passports in the air and begged U.S. soldiers Friday to let them on flights out of Haiti's earthquake-ravaged capital.

As troops and supplies streamed into Port-au-Prince on military cargo planes, beleaguered American survivors of Tuesday's earthquake hoped for rides out after hours and days of waiting under the tropical sun.

"We've been standing since this morning and we've got no idea whether we will leave by the end of the day," said Stacy Obvien, 44, who was traveling with an Illinois missionary group.

U.S. soldiers in camouflage appealed to those waiting to remain calm as they sorted Americans from other foreign nationals at the airport. The work seemed without an immediate purpose: Few were able to leave.

Before dawn, some were able to make it out. Military aircraft flew about 250 U.S. citizens visiting Haiti for tourism, business, charity and family visits to New Jersey early Friday morning.

"From the time I got to Haiti, it was nothing but pure hell," said Mirlene Jacob, a 27-year-old from Philadelphia who was in Haiti for only a few hours before the earthquake hit.

Jacob came to attend her grandmother's funeral, only to see her father nearly killed by a collapsed wall. Her father was airlifted out for surgery, but Jacob and her family slept outside the U.S. Embassy for two nights before they could get home.

She said the rules at the airport kept shifting on who would be evacuated first: At one time, it was the first to arrive, then the badly hurt, then, those with children.

The earthquake killed at least six Americans. The embassy contacted nearly 1,000 Americans, but an estimated 45,000 are in the country. Experts estimate up to 50,000 people perished.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is a major focus of U.S. charity, government aid and diplomacy, and more poured in Friday. Incoming Americans included about 250 physicians and nurses, landing at the airport to work under the federally coordinated National Disaster Medical System. Their plan: set up five medical clinics and one larger hospital, all with helicopter landing zones for transport of the most seriously injured.

The Americans who were confirmed dead reflected the charity work done in the country.

Recent college graduate Molly Hightower was killed while volunteering at a Haitian orphanage. The 22-year-old from the Seattle area was on the fifth floor of a seven-floor orphanage building when it collapsed.

State Department employee Victoria DeLong, a cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy, was killed when her home collapsed in the earthquake.

Others narrowly escaped. Mission worker Jim Gulley of Colorado emerged safely after 55 hours trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.

The State Department says it is almost certain to confirm more deaths of U.S. citizens.

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Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

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