Israelis race to save lives in devastated Haiti

Israelis race to save lives in devastated Haiti

Israeli rescue and medical teams quickly joined the international effort on Saturday to locate and extricate survivors and provide aid to the millions of Haitians rendered helpless by last Tuesday's devastating earthquake, Jerusalem Post reported.

Haitian officials are speculating that the death toll may be anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000, and vast numbers of bodies are being buried in mass graves to try to reduce the spread of disease.

A third of Haiti's 9 million people are believed to require aid, with 300,000 living on the streets here in the capital alone. The UN has described the disaster as the most challenging it has faced in terms of resources needed. A strongly felt aftershock, measured at 4.5 on the Richter scale, further complicated rescue efforts on Saturday, forcing a brief suspension of relief activities.

A ZAKA rescue unit, deployed at a collapsed multi-story university building, managed to extricate eight students from the rubble over the weekend - underlining the conviction among the Israeli rescue teams that it is not too late to save lives.

The Israeli delegation, which arrived on Friday, has established a headquarters near the airport, and swiftly set up its field hospital, unloading dozens of truckloads of medical and logistical equipment. The IDF's Medical and Rescue Team immediately began work, with two teams from the Oketz canine unit pressed into action, including at the UN headquarters in the capital where there was hope of locating and extricating survivors.

Meanwhile, the last Israeli missing in the quake, Sharona Elsaieh, daughter of peace activist Abie Nathan, contacted her family in Israel on Friday. Elsaieh, who has been living on the island for several years, told her family she was in good condition.

At Jimani Hospital, just across the border in the Dominican Republic, the extent of the tragedy is overpowering. Hundreds of Haiti's walking wounded are arriving in an endless stream, needing everything from amputations to abdominal surgery.

Inside Haiti, at the capital's General Hospital, patients lie on dirty mattresses on the floor while doctors do their best to apply splints - made from cardboard boxes - to broken limbs. Hopelessly overwhelmed medics do their best to tend to burned and bleeding gashes amid a stench of sweat and infection, with flies buzzing everywhere. Bodies are stacked outside the building in piles.

On the way into Port-au-Prince, cars and trucks have jammed the streets, hugely complicating efforts by international aid and rescue workers to distribute supplies and reach the scenes of devastation. Haitians, covering their faces to protect against swirling dust, are trying desperately to get out of the city, while ambulances, sirens blazing, battle to get through.

Concrete homes have collapsed everywhere in the hills of the capital, and people are squatting in empty plots of land and outside the destroyed National Palace, seeking shade in makeshift tents.

Some were begging for water, for food, and for transport through the rubble-strewn streets. One man was selling a bottle of juice for $7; others were begging for food.

Max Pierre Louis, who works for an organization that treats people with HIV/AIDS, said the 600 adults and 300 children he works with were rendered homeless by the earthquake. "We need help," he said simply.

Not far away, Dieudonne Jackson was searching for his brother's body in the rubble. "He was working on the second floor," he said, motioning to the collapsed building beside him. "I don't find him yet."

Crowds of Haitians are thronging around the foreign workers shoveling through piles of wreckage at shattered buildings throughout the city, using sniffer dogs, shovels and in some cases heavy earth-moving equipment.

Searchers poked a camera on a wire thorough a hole at the collapsed Hotel Montana and spotted three people who were still alive, and they heard the voice of a woman speaking French, said Ecuadorian Red Cross worker David Betancourt.

An El Al Boeing 777 and an IDF plane had landed on Friday with 250 Israeli medical officers and nurses for the 90-bed field hospital, which includes a full surgical unit and is able to treat 100 patients at a time.

Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish World Service and the Joint Distribution Committee, are also already working with partners on the ground here. The JDC is working with Heart to Heart to bring in and distribute medical aid, equipment and services. It also is working with the IDF Medical Corps, and has purchased equipment including infant incubators and orthopedic devices.

Chabad sent four trucks of vegetables into the country.

"We see people on the road asking for food," Rabbi Shimon Pelman, Chabad's emissary in Santo Domingo, said as he traveled by car from the Dominican Republican intoHaiti just before Shabbat. Crossing the border, he said, was like entering another world. "You see a big nothing. You just see people asking for food and water."

In Washington, US President Barack Obama joined with his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on Saturday to appeal for donations to help Haiti and his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, arrived in the Caribbean nation to coordinate with officials on the ground.

"We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild," Obama vowed.

"By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world," Obama said in the Rose Garden, standing between Bush and Clinton.

The two former presidents have created a Web site, http://www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, to collect donations. They said potential donors should know that their money will be spent wisely.

Bush said the best way for people to help in Haiti is by sending money. "I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash," said Bush, who made his first visit to the Oval Office since leaving the White House in January 2009.

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