Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Angel Boat"

Project HOPE volunteer, Dr. Jose Irazuzta recounts an emotional day at Killick Point, Haiti.

After 7 straight working days, I took a break and went ashore to Killick Point. Killick Point is a small enclave that the Haitian Coast Guard is now sharing with a group from Colombia that had set up a 20 bed hospital, a United Nations deposit of vehicles, and a U.S. clinic. A lot of the activity there was centered on the movement of supplies for the USNS Comfort.

There is a short dock where crates and water bottles were being moved, a few vans were waiting to be loaded and a busy lieutenant acting as “traffic controller” was directing people and machines in and out. This business of having fresh water consumes a lot of resources.

Later on, two of the top brass from the Navy’s USNS Comfort and USS Gunston Hall arrived in separate boats with a small entourage of photographers and people “playing host” and showing the place. The top brass seemed very interested in a particular tent, it was clearly set aside, and there was no movement of people in or out. I thought that it may have had an air conditioner and refreshments; it was really hot and humid.

Shortly after the entourage went in, a soldier came out of the tent in a hurry and went back in bringing only one chair...that was odd, there were 2 “big wigs.” In the mean time a scuff boat, white with a red cross, from the Comfort was getting closer. Curiously it was not loaded with people or boxes as all previous ones. It was steaming hot and the lieutenant, in an undershirt like everyone else, started giving orders to rapidly clear the dock. As the top brass came out of the tent, all loading and unloading ceased. In the mean time another group was hurriedly bringing a large, white, polygonal wooden box into “the tent” that had just been inspected by the “top brass.” Time stood still.

“What is going on?” I asked. They told me an “Angel boat” is arriving.

Four marines, in dress blues, started unloading a stretcher from the boat. It was a light load, but they seemed to be handling something extremely fragile with a deliberate slowness. It was the remains of a child that had died on the Comfort despite all efforts.

These marines were paying full respect to an unknown child. A mother was “being handled with care” while accompanied by military personnel. The tent needed only a single chair for the mother, the rest were “standing up” for her.

Read more from Dr. Jose Irazuzta

Photos by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist, Astrid Riecken.

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