Reviews : Rescue SA in Haiti

The scene at sunset is grim at the Rescue South Africa compound in Port-au-Prince.

About half of the 39-member South African team sit around with their shirts off on hay bales and air cargo crates, visibly exhausted. They're supposed to speak only of "search-and-rescue", but, by the end of their third day in Haiti, some slip into the forbidden phrase "body recoveries". Most don't talk at all.
Looking up from a plate of rice and bully beef, John Leotlela - a fire fighter from Ekurhuleni - says: "We are rescuers - we want to rescue people, but so far ... let me say its been hard work. Maybe the golden hour (for trapped survivors) is passing."
On Monday, Leotlela and his comrades recovered six bodies from the former UN headquarters in the middle-class suburb of Petionville, and identified two more for the relief crew to extract.


On Sunday, The Times found the team trudging through the shattered inner city of Bel Air, en route to a set of collapsed buildings assigned to them.
It's important to stick to the daily plan - co-ordinated between 43 international rescue teams - but they have to walk past flattened houses and shops which they know may contain survivors. Seeing the sweat-drenched South Africans move past, a pedestrian, Bewel Calitte, 23, points to what was once a three-storey structure and hisses: "But there were 23 people in that house when it fell - why do they not look in there?"

Rescue SA barely made it to Haiti at all. On Saturday, US military air traffic controllers waved their plane away on its approach, and they were diverted to the neighbouring Dominical Republic.

Ian Scher, chief executive of the outfit, said the team got its landing slot only because one member happened to go out for a cigarette, and bumped into a US air force officer who provided the key information.
Their base is inside the airport perimeter at Port-au-Prince, about 800m from the airport building; a couple of dozen tents among a few hundred in the make-shift international rescue village.

Checking his inventory of kit in the warehouse tent, Scher says: "The guys are disappointed. So far this trip, they're only found bodies." But that's a vitally important function, in terms of health and dignity, and some kind of comfort for the families.

Then a rescuer bursts in and says: "We've got guys on scene where there are two living patients! We need to get an ambo to it, and we'll need force protection as well."
Later, Scher reports that at least one woman was extracted alive at the scene - after seven days beneath the rubble - but that it was another team's operation. It's good news, but its not the win this team was looking for.

• Four Johannesburg urban rescue specialists, led by EMS deputy director of operations, Rapulane Monageng, have joined the South African search and rescue team currently in Haiti, Johannesburg Emergency Management Services said yesterday.

Source: timeslive.co.za

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