Florida gov: Flights continue out of Haiti
Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
MIAMI— Hundreds of people have been flown from Haiti to Florida, even after the U.S. military halted evacuation flights for critically injured patients, the state's governor said Sunday.
Gov. Charlie Crist told ABC News' "Good Morning America" on Sunday he was puzzled by the suspension, which has been in effect since Wednesday. Civilian flights and other military flights have continued.
Military planes carrying 700 U.S. citizens, legal residents and other foreign nationals landed in central Florida over the past 24 hours, and three of those people required medical care at hospitals, state officials said.
"We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and happy to continue to do so," Crist said.
Some passengers from those flights needed routine treatment at hospitals, but Florida has not received any critical patients needing urgent care since the halt, said Sterling Ivey, the governor's spokesman.
Exactly what led to the suspension of medevac flights remains unclear. Military officials said some states refused to take patients. Florida officials say none were ever turned away, though Crist had sent a letter Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the state's hospitals were reaching a saturation point.
The letter also asked for federal help paying for patient expenses — a request Crist on Sunday said could have been misinterpreted. He also said federal officials have indicated he would receive help covering the costs, totaling more than $7 million.
The White House has said hospitals were running out of space and officials were working to increase capacity in Haiti and the U.S., as well as aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship.
U.S. Transportation Command spokesman Capt. Kevin Aandahl referred questions Sunday about the medevac flights to the White House.
Col. Rick Kaiser said Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to build a 250-bed tent hospital in Haiti to relieve pressures on the Comfort and on Haitian facilities where earthquake victims are being treated under tarpaulins.
Several hospitals in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were damaged or destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said about 435 earthquake victims had been evacuated before the suspension, and that he was "sure the Department of Defense wants to do the right thing."
Individual hospitals can still arrange private medical flights — such as one Sunday that brought three critically ill children to a hospital in Philadelphia.
Doctors have said the makeshift facilities in Haiti aren't equipped to treat such critical conditions and warn that similar patients could die if they aren't treated in U.S. hospitals.
Crist also has asked Sebelius for better coordination of the evacuations.
The state had been relying on air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport to relay information about the evacuations because the U.S. military flights headed to the state without notice, David Halstead, the Florida Division of Emergency Management's interim director, said Sunday.
"The governor's request is, 'Just tell us a plan,'" Halstead said.