Haiti’s entrenched poverty, insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure are posing huge challenges to helping the victims of a powerful weekend earthquake.
Aid began flowing more quickly Thursday into the southwestern peninsula where the weekend quake struck, killing more than 2,100 people. Private relief supplies and shipments from the U.S. government and others were starting to arrive.
But the need was extreme, made worse by the rain from Tropical Storm Grace, and people were growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace.
News4Jax traveled with a crew from Naval Air Station Jacksonville aboard a P8 Poseidon aircraft, taking a look at some of the damage left behind from about 10,000 feet in the air.
Hundreds of tents were seen in fields serving as makeshift homes for those who lost everything.
Crews communicated with officials on the ground, searching for people needing any rescue and hospitals needing assistance.
The plane never touched down, and to refuel, a tanker flew over the plane, distributing roughly 20,000 pounds of gas into its fuel tank.
Seven to 12,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.
Kevin Pahalek was the primary acoustic operator in charge of the camera on the plane, keeping an eye on the damage.
“It’s devastating,” Pahalek said. “Nobody wants to be in that situation, and it’s really hard, especially somewhere close to home that you see stuff like that. Any type of help that we can provide to them is outstanding.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is helping, using seven planes to help with relief efforts.
“We’re able to jump in the fight and get involved and provide that level of assistance to the folks who need it,” said Martin Wade, director of national air security operations.
Wade said CBP is the eyes and ears for all other aircrafts on the mission, alerting them of who is in the air and how close they are to each other.
“That communication platform is key as far as making sure that all of the response aircrafts, including helicopters that are providing some close ground support, are all on the same sheet of music,” Wade said.
So much can happen around these planes, including rescuing people, taking them to hospitals and moving supplies around for those in need.
Aboard one of the planes, there’s a galley in case agents get hungry and a bunk room for rest since a mission in Haiti can take up to 10 hours in one flight.
Agents will be giving clear directions in the sky to help missions run smoothly.
“We’re sitting up high, about 18,000 plus feet. We have the big picture, we can really get important time-critical information to assess for actually conducting the rescue and recovery effort on the ground,” said Douglas Paishon, aviation enforcement agent.
CBP will be available for however long they are needed for the relief in Haiti.