Sunday, January 24, 2010

Destination Home part 2

The airport in Port-au-Prince is hard to describe. As soon as we got off the plane I was running around like I always do on these stories, taking pictures, doing interviews, getting the info, and trying to soak it all in. The heat, humidity, people, planes, choppers, cars, trucks, jets, smells, and sights all kind of hit me at once. Planes were coming and going right around us on the tarmac. Tents and chairs and rope lines and people stretched all to my left; to my right was an entrance to the building but they wouldn't let us in. It was way too damaged.

I talked to relief workers and volunteers trying to catch any flight back home to their own jobs and families. I interviewed Haitians lining up with their children to join relatives in the United States. I saw our troops, Polish troops, and crews that I think were Portuguese and Egyptian if I read their uniforms correctly. Some came to pose by our huge jet.
(The Air Force special tactics crew directing traffic from a field by the runway)

They weren't sure when we would get a spot to leave so they told us to make sure to stick close because once we got the word we would go quickly. Then a group of people lined up by our plane and they were let on board. I was told that meant we were flying to Florida.

Now all the cargo was gone from our plane and they added extra seats. Babies and children crowded close to their mothers, volunteers or new adoptive parents. Two 3 year old boys sat by me, looking around with big eyes -- one boy had been crying. I just wanted to scoop them up in my arms. They were being adopted by a family in Tampa, and they fell asleep on their new father's chest. In fact all of the children fell asleep even on that noisy, sometimes bumpy flight. We left at 6 PM Mountain time (8 there I believe) and landed in Florida at roughly 9:30 PM Mountain time, 11:30 Eastern.

I had no cell service at all in Haiti. None of us reporters could get through to our stations or families to say we were safe or to do any reporting. But I reached a Univision reporter who had service and was able to call my station for a quick report, but wasn't able to tell them to call anyone else before running out of time! So when we landed in Florida I was glad to call JB and tell him I was fine.

In Florida they dropped down the back of the cargo plane and up the ramp came rushing a whole host of TSA or INS agents I believe. They brought blankets and just wrapped up those children and families quickly and took them inside. I found out then that we were at the Sanford International Airport outside Orlando.

Inside, people were working around the clock. They had food, bedding, kits, computers and helpers to get anyone where they needed to go. The Air Force crew of our plane said goodbye to us reporters and went on to Virginia and to their next mission. I owe a big thank you to the Red Cross for shuttling us reporters 40 minutes or so away to the Orlando airport in the middle of the night.

We then had to find a way home! No flights were going to Salt Lake right them at all. I really felt like I was on the Amazing Race, lugging all my gear around and racing to book a flight. We 3 reporters were the last ones to book the 7 AM Eastern Time Delta flight.

Then we had to wait. Wait wait wait in the quiet Orlando airport full of more Haitian families, volunteers and relief workers sleeping on blankets and couches. I decided to stay up and finish all my reports and stories and file them. I think I fell asleep on the floor around 3:45 AM Mountain time (I never changed my watch), then boarded the plane at 4:30 Mountain /6:30 Eastern and flew another 5 hours home!


Sarah said...

My oh my!! You had quite the adventure! You will never forget this!!! I like the pictures from the plane-it is so huge!! WOW is about all I can think of saying. What a job!

rosann said...

WOW Mary - what an amazing experience... thanks for sharing! And I thought you looked remarkably alert today for all that travelling and lack of sleep!

Ma Heather and Pa Craig said...

What a story! That is really awesome that you got to travel there. I'm glad you're back safely and sans-malaria!

Rachelle said...

Wow is right!!

kevin said...

You are just too amazing!!!!

Lexie said...

Wow, what an incredible story in so many ways. I'm so glad you're back safe, and so happy to think of those families coming to the US and being wrapped in blankets and care upon arrival. What a memorable experience - thanks for sharing it!

Angelle said...

Wow, an adventure of a lifetime! Especially being able to witness the families adopting Haitian children. That must have been so touching.