Eighteen miles outside of Port-au-Prince, the coastal city of Leogane lies in ruins. The epicenter of the 7.0 quake, Leogane's dead number somewhere between 30,000-40,000, with 80-90% of its buildings completely destroyed. There is one building which still stands strong, surrounded by a makeshift tent city housing 4,000 displaced inhabitants, with numbers growing every day, as more and more people are moved out of the capital into the countryside.
The Residence Filariose, at the Hopital Saint-Croix, is part of Notre Dame Haiti Program, a medical center and nursing school created over 25 years ago to combat lymphatic filariasis or Elephantiasis, the second leading cause of disability in the world. For the last two weeks, it has served as a refuge for the thousands of wounded and displaced of Leogane. We arrived just in time to accompany a couple of trucks heading to a nearby road which was serving as an airstrip, where a single engine plane was about to land, bearing food and medical supplies. We drove through the center of town, ducking at times to avoid power lines still hanging down, the buildings kneeling in scattered piles. Sri Lankan UN forces were in place, blocking the road which allowed the plane to land. (Also, 100 yards away, the U.S. Navy had set up a perimeter, securing what looked like a cow pasture for the landing of several BlackHawk helicopters, each unloading massive amounts of supplies.)
Upon returning to the medical center, I spoke with Ginny Clark of Constellation Brands, a wine company which donated two executive jets to transport supplies to Leogane from New York. She explained that the Port-au-Prince airport had been pushed beyond capacity, so the jets landed in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and from there two single engine planes small enough to land on the street in Leogane had been making continuous runs with the supplies. Also on that plane were five doctors, all volunteers: three surgeons and two anaesthesiologists. Although their particular trip was not sponsored by Notre Dame, one of the surgeons, Dr. Lars Ellison, explained that two of the doctors were alumni, and knowing about the Notre Dame Haiti Program, took it upon themselves to call some colleagues and organize this mission. They plan to stay indefinitely, with the donated jets making return trips every seven to 10 days as needed. Before setting up an outdoor clinic/surgical tent, Dr. Ellison told me his first concern was how to properly coordinate their efforts without overlapping or competing with services already in place -- the medical center also had some volunteer doctors from Japan and Doctors Without Borders, as well as representatives from the Child Nutrition Program and Save the Children.
Our excellent hosts were the program's administrators, Wesley Pierre and Jean-Marc Brissau, who have worked at the Programe Filiarose for 15 years, and from what I saw, they were running the show, completely on top of the situation. Such great guys. Wes studied Computer Science in Port-au-Prince and one of his many, many tasks is to handle the logistical coordination of medical and computer equipment. Jean-Marc took a short leave of Leogane for the US to earn a master's degree in International Human Rights from Notre Dame, all the while still helping to coordinate the program. I asked Wes and Jean-Marc about the first few days, and like most people I meet in Haiti, that question brings a pause accompanied with a deep inhale. The center, being one of the few working buildings immediately became a main destination for Leogane's wounded and dying. The nursing school lost two students and wounded several others. When asked about the security on the ground, Jean-Marc told me he would never have expected looting in his hometown. Even though it was not widespread, its existence to him was inconceivable. Five days after the quake, UN, U.S., and Canadian troops arrived, which helped tremendously. Not that the violence was out of hand, but as the days progressed, the concern grew. Up until that time, Wes and Jean-Marc had only four police officers helping them, two working in 12 hour shifts. They are extremely relieved to have the international troop and police presence (from where they stand there are no politics in this situation -- the locals need aid and the medical center needs security, period). And, of course, as more doctors and volunteers arrive, Wes and Jean-Marc will be there to offer warm greetings and expert assistance.
After so many days spent in the capital documenting the destruction, with momentary glimpses of health and improvement (knowing the relief was underway but not having full access to view it up close), it was a blessing to visit Leogane and witness true success. Surgeons, doctors, public health engineers, local and foreign, working around the clock to pick up the pieces of a city that has quite literally fallen. My thanks to Wes and Jean-Marc for their hospitality, and the doctors and volunteers whose work and generosity is so immeasurably inspiring. Go Irish!