21 January 2010

300 Paratroopers running a refugee camp of 50,000

US Army Pvt First Class Thomas, of the 82nd Airborne Division, stands among a crowd of about 2,000 people to help maintain order as they line up for water distribution at a camp set up on a golf course in Port-au- Prince on Wednesday. Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP.

The magnitude of the task is staggering.

At Haiti golf course, 82nd Airborne runs a refugee camp
By Amy Bracken Correspondent / January 21, 2010

It was once a thing of beauty for Haiti’s elite – a rolling nine-hole golf course, overlooking Port-au-Prince and the ocean beyond and framed by Hispaniola's central mountain range.

Today it’s a patchwork of blankets, sheets, tarps and cardboard, sheltering as many as 50,000 displaced people. ...

The U.S. military didn’t talk to the club’s owner, Coty Reinbold, until after [Captain John] Hartsock landed on the grass. The club’s private security guards were present, which “made things interesting,” Hartsock said, but they let him stay and eventually bring more than 300 troops from his 82nd Airborne Division’s First Squadron 73rd Cavalry Regiment, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Reingold said he doesn’t like speaking with journalists, but Hartsock reported that the club owner has been “bending over backwards” to help make the operation work.

The troops, who sleep on the tennis courts, have been distributing roughly 10,000 water bottles and 4,000 meals a day and are running a medical clinic. The food and water have been supplied by USAID and Catholic Relief Services.

The crowd at the camp is swelling, as more of the displaced hear about the distributions.

“Right now I’m on average pushing through about 50 Haitians every minute, at a minimum getting them a bottle of water,” Hartsock said. ...

While 10,000 water bottles might seem like a lot, that might be one bottle for every five people, in an entire day, in a sweltering camp. There remains a long line when the supplies run out.

Meanwhile, up at the clubhouse, representatives of the Army and CRS seemed to be somewhere close to the same page, meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss a better way to get the food out, and to tour the camp in search of potential distribution sites.

"What they're trying to do now is organize the camp," said Lane Hartill, a CRS information officer, "to partition it into quadrants so it's more manageable to coordinate food delivery." ...

Down in the camp, residents say they can’t imagine leaving any time soon, and many are working to make their home better, helping with distributions, forming volunteer clean-up crews, playing musical instruments and singing, and holding morning prayer. Some children play soccer with a small rubber ball, while others enjoy the never-before-seen contours of a golf course, sliding down its smooth slopes on makeshift cardboard sleds.

Pfc. Chris Jurgill stands outside the main gate to the hospital compound to keep people from coming in. The Army was tasked with securing the hospital, and their first job was making sure only those who need to be in the compound were allowed to come and go. It only took them a few hours to restore some semblence of order. Megan McCloskey / Stripes.

Meanwhile, the Paratroopers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment brought calm to chaos at Port-au-Prince hospital yesterday. “Glad you’re here,” one doctor said. “I’m going to get you boys a raise.”

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