Haitian Red Cross at the heart of relief

Gennike Mayers, IFRC in Port-au-Prince

In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville, a Haitian Red Cross team has been providing vital first aid assistance to hundreds of people wounded in the earthquake.

At the St. Pierre square in Pétionville - a small suburb to the east of Port-au-Prince - hundreds of earthquake survivors have taken refuge. Families have set up make-shift tents using sheets, curtains or whatever could be salvaged from their crumbled homes.

Across the road, just a few metres away, is a small branch of the Red Cross working out of a garage beneath the Mayor's office. It bears very little resemblance to a first aid station - the space is cramped and full of cars. But these are some of the conditions to be overcome in order to provide support to injured, explains one Red Cross volunteer.

"It may not be the best place with all these cars around but plenty of people are coming in and we are caring for them," says Rita Aristide, a Haitian Red Cross volunteer since 1999. "We have been dressing wounds for hundreds of people already."

The range of injuries vary from scrapes and scratches to deep gashes, open head wounds, and fractured arms and legs.

Dr. Grégory Gué, a physician from the southern town of Jacmel travelled to Port-au-Prince to work alongside Red Cross volunteers.

"I came where there was need. We have to do what we can to help our people. Haiti needs all the help it can get. Help will come from outside very soon but we also have to help ourselves," he explains.

Among the steady stream of wounded persons receiving medical attention from Dr. Gué and the Red Cross first aid team were two pregnant women who suffered damage to their backs during the quake. Both had been hit by falling blocks. One of the women lost her child. They were brought over on stretchers from the square to the Red Cross station. Serious injuries, like these, are being treated where possible and referred to the nearest hospital.

On 16 January, a Red Cross Red Crescent convey arrived in Port-au-Prince, having travelled overland from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It included a 50-bed rapid deployment hospital. Earlier in the day, the first of three basic health care emergency response units (ERUs) landed in the city as well. This unit can provide basic but vital heath care to 30,000 people.