Haiti's Orphan Airlift Takes 53 Kids to Pittsburgh

Massive exodus underway of Haiti's quake ravaged capital.

January 19, 2010, 9:05 AM

Jan. 19, 2010— -- A planeload of Haitian orphans were evacuated from the quake shattered capital today, landing in chilly Pittsburgh today to a warm welcome.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell accompanied the plane to Port-au-Prince Monday and today he led 53 orphans off the military transport. Most of the children are under the age of 4 and many were carried in the arms of workers. Others walked off the plane and waved to onlookers.

The tykes were taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh where 53 beds were waiting for them, each with a teddy bear on it.

Rendell said that of the 53 children, 47 already have agreements for adoption and the other six children were in the process of adoption.

The orphans were allowed into the country under an emergency humanitarian program announced Monday. The Homeland Security ruling allows orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States temporarily on a case-by-case basis.

The decision applies to children who have been legally confirmed as orphans eligible for intercountry adoption by the government of Haiti and are being adopted by U.S. citizens.

"While we remain focused on family reunification in Haiti, authorizing the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States will allow them to receive the care they need here," Napolitano said.

The orphan airlift was spurred by Jamie McMutrie, 30, and her sister Ali, 22, who moved to Haiti to care for children at a Port-au-Prince orphanage four years ago. After the quake, they began a Twitter and Facebook campaign to help the children.

"When the earthquake hit, my sister and I felt absolutely hopeless," Ali McMutrie told a news conference in Pittsburgh. She added, "We knew we had to take action."

She said the children are doing fine. "They know they are coming home and going to their adoptive parents," she said.

Other orphans arrived in the U.S. today. Matt and Mandy Poulters of Iowa rushed to Haiti to rescue 4-year-old Esther, the Haitian girl they had adopted but who was stranded in Port-au-Prince awaiting her visa. The Poulters arrived in Miami today with Esther and four other Haitian orphans.

Esther had been located by Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America." The reunion with her adoptive parents occurred Monday. The Poulters found Esther and another eight orphans living outside and running low on food and water.

Haitian Orphans Enter U.S.

Unwilling to leave the other girls behind, they took all nine to the U.S. Embassy. Four of the children were already in the process of being adopted by other families, and under the humanitarian emergency program were allowed to enter the United States.

The Poulters had wanted to bring all nine of the children back to the States with them, but they had to settle for bringing Esther and the four other girls to Florida today.

"None of them have ridden on an airplane before," Mandy Poulters told "Good Morning America" today. "They're troupers. They were a little chilly in Miami when they stepped off the plane. The girls have sundresses on, so it's a bit of shock to them, weather-wise."

Many of Haiti's most vulnerable children are beginning to arrive at Miami-area hospitals to receive treatment for injuries they sustained during the earthquake. Dubbed Operation Pierre Pan, the mission is also an effort to place thousands of Haitian children who have lost their parents to the earthquake into U.S. homes or to place them with relatives who are currently living in Miami or elsewhere in the United States.

Operation Pierre Pan still needs a stamp of approval from the U.S. government in order to grant the children temporary status in the country. Under the current Temporary Protected Status granted to Haitians, only those Haitians already in the U.S. before the earthquake will be allowed to stay.

It's not only orphans leaving. A massive exodus is under way as desperate Haitians stream out of the wreckage of the capital.

At the city's terminal where buses depart, the area is jammed with people trying to pay the increased fares for rides into the Haitian countryside or to the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic. The only possessions they have left can fit into a suitcase, if they have one.

There are no assurances that things will be better for them there, but they want to be anywhere except the hellish streets of the capital where the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people have filled the streets with the putrid smell of decomposing corpses.

Cargo planes carrying food, water and other essential supplies into the country are leaving loaded with people who have visas that allow them to leave the country.

The floor of a huge U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster from McChord Air Force Base was filled with people at Port-au-Prince's Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport Sunday fleeing the shattered country. The cargo plane carried them to Orlando, Fla.

Click here for complete coverage of the Haitian earthquake

The U.S. and the Haitian governments are also warning Haitians not to board boats and try to sail to the United States, making it clear that anyone landing illegally in the United States would be sent back to Haiti.

Despite fears that the magnitude 7.0 quake that reduced much of Port-au-Prince to gravel would produce a wave of Haitians attempting to escape by boat, so far those fears have not materialized.

Napolitano announced last week the designation of temporary protected status for Haitian nationals who were physically present in the United States as of Jan. 12, 2010, which would allow eligible Haitian nationals to continue living and working in the United States for the next 18 months, and allow Haitians in the United States to work and send money home to their families.

But those who attempt to travel to the United States after Jan. 12, 2010, will not be eligible and will be repatriated.

Search and rescue efforts continued in the capital today, but Maj. Gen. Daniel Alynn said that his command will decide soon to switch to a recovery mode. Wednesday will be the ninth day since the quake struck Haiti.

"We fully expect that we will transition very soon from the search phase to the recovery phase, and obviously we continue to be in prayer," Allyn said.

Several more people were pulled out the rubble today, one by a South African rescue team, another by a Russian search team, and a third by a combined crew of Mexican and German rescuers.

But in a sign that trapped survivors can't last much longer, one person trapped near the site of the National Cathedral apparently died while rescuers were cutting through cement and trying to reach the person.

The stench of death that is overpowering in parts of the city makes it obvious that many bodies remain in the rubble. Searchers have been reluctant to use heavy equipment to sift through the concrete for fear of injuring possible survivors trapped beneath it.

The Haitian battle of the bottleneck continues today as aid workers and the U.S. military struggle to get tons of food and water to famished Haitians before conditions turn violent.

One problem has been the U.S. military's inability to get more troops on the ground. There were supposed to be 3,500 members of the 82nd Airborne Division on the island Monday but only 1,100 of them were deployed.

U.S. Struggles to Get Troops Into Haiti

Hundreds of U.S. troops from the 82nd airborne division landed on the lawn of the wrecked Presidential Palace today, as quake victims cheered and looked on the fence of the grounds.

"We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems," said Fede Felissaint, a hairdresser.

Just blocks away from the U.S. troops landing at the palace, looters were tearing through downtown shops.

"That is how it is," said Haitian police officer Arina Bence to the Associated Press. "There is nothing we can do."

The troops are needed for security when helicopters land to distribute aid to prevent the Haitians from rushing the choppers. Although some looting has broken out in Port-au-Prince, the distribution of food and water has been fairly smooth, witnesses have reported.

A fleet of helicopters is now ferrying aid to points around Haiti, but the relief supplies are still reaching only a portion of the estimated 1.5 million people who have been affected by the quake.

ABC News took a helicopter flight outside of Port-au-Prince to the area that was at the epicenter of the quake. Houses there were shaken until they collapsed. People on the ground waved eagerly, hoping for the first sign of help, but no relief aid had arrived.

U.S. officials are now saying they expect to have 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground by the end of the week, as well as 50 helicopters. The target will be complicated, however, by a decision to give flights with food and water priority over military flights landing at the only landing strip in the country that can accommodate large planes.

Aid flights are still struggling to land their planes in Haiti. The aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said one of their cargo planes carrying 12 tons of medical equipment was turned away from the Port-au-Prince airport 3 times since Sunday night.

"We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying," said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for a Haitian MSF center in Cite Soleil. "I have never seen anything like this."

There is still an outpouring of donations for Haiti relief. The Red Cross said today that donations have surpassed $100 million.

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