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Race against time: Window of opportunity to rescue survivors narrows

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporter

Antonia Graham of Digicel greets Carine Jones, a Haitian mother, with her children, after arriving from Haiti at the Norman Manley International Airport on Friday. Jones' husband, who is Jamaican, works with Digicel. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer

AS THE Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mobilises regional relief efforts to aid its Haitian neighbours, senior officials from Jamaica echoed fears of not finding any more survivors beyond the critical 72-hour mark, which elapsed yesterday evening.

It was made clear that persons, who might still be trapped beneath debris, are in a race against time. And the clock is winning.

"Life can only be sustained for so long without air and water, so if you recall when the event occurred, it may have been 4:30 p.m. or 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday, and we are now at Friday, so essentially that window is closing.

"Very, very few people have been found alive late in the day, so we are really running out of time in terms of the rescue efforts that have to be conducted," said Ronald Jackson, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, who was a member of the Jamaican contingent, led by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, that visited Haiti on Thursday.

shared feelings

The director general's fears were corroborated by Minister with responsibility for Information, Daryl Vaz, who also made the trip to Haiti and witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by the seismic activity earlier this week.

"The window of opportunity for rescuing is probably almost closed by now as we speak, based on the heat and all the other elements," lamented Vaz.

"When we left there yesterday (Thursday), we were informed that they had mass burials for seven thousand persons already ... without heavy equipment going in to try and remove the debris, so you can understand the magnitude of this," he added.

Vaz said the chances of finding survivors 72 hours after the 7.0 monster struck Haiti were approaching minuscule.

The Cabinet minister also pointed out that while some structures had withstood the quake's wrath, persons living on the island nation were afraid to go back into their homes. "What is happening there now is that those persons who are homeless are on the streets, and those who still have somewhere to go are afraid to go back indoors because of the number of earth tremors and aftershocks, which by the time we left there ... were almost forty (or) fifty," he said.

Vaz continued: "So you can imagine the mental state of the surviving residents."

After a full briefing from Haitian president, René Preval, Vaz said the country's major challenge is a lack of communication. "As we speak, the systems are down and it is very chaotic because the relief is coming in and it is not being able to be distributed properly because of the lack of coordination, which is as a result of the lack of communication."