On a Mission to Save Lives in Haiti

Fairfax County Search and Rescue Team heads to disaster

By Tracee Wilkins and Lauren Dunn
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 10:12 AM EDT
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Dramatic Photos: Earthquake Aftermath in Haiti

AFP/Getty Images

A Haitian woman is helped from the rubble of a damaged building on January 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince after a huge earthquake measuring 7.0 rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, toppling buildings and causing widespread damage and panic, officials and AFP witnesses said. A tsunami alert was immediately issued for the Caribbean region after the earthquake struck at 2153 GMT. AFP PHOTO / Lisandro SUERO == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / NO SALES == (Photo credit should read LISANDRO SUERO/AFP/Getty Images)

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Seventy-two members of the Fairfax County Search and Rescue Team are heading to the island of Haiti to help in the aftermath of the most devastating disaster to touch that island in recent history.

The task force left the department's academy at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, and was to depart from Dulles International Airport later in the morning.

Click here for a list of ways to help the people of Haiti.

This will not be the team's first trip to Haiti. It was sent to the Haitian town of Petionville in 2008 after a school collapsed with children inside. But rescuers said this will be much different because they're dealing with a city in ruins, not just one building.

"Just getting from point A to point B is an incredible challenge when the streets are full of cars, broken roadways and broken bridges," rescue squad officer Evan Lewis said.

The team is bringing six search-and-rescue canines and up to 48 tons of equipment with them. The Los Angeles County search and rescue team will also join them.

In the past, the task force has deployed nationally to the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Pentagon and Hurricanes Katrina and Isabel. Additionally, they have deployed internationally to the bombing in Kenya, and earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan, and Iran.

A tweet from the D.C. Fire Department's Twitter account Tuesday night said K-9 Cazo and handler Sgt. Chris Holmes were being deployed to Haiti.

Meanwhile, Inova Health Systems is sending a team of doctors and nurses to Haiti Wednesday night.  Inova is working with the Community Coalition for Haiti.  The team will include three or four doctors, several nurses and a pediatric specialist who will be going to St. Damien's Hospital.

The Community Coalition is sending two medical teams to Haiti to focus on emergency medical care for children. The teams of six doctors, four nurses and support staff are expected to leave within days. INOVA Fairfax Hospital is helping to coordinate the relief effort.

"This earthquake probably has set back Haiti a generation," said Dr. John Klousia, one of the doctors who will be going to Haiti.

The Coalition normally supports efforts to build clean water systems, maintain medical supplies for hospitals and provide basic education materials and staff.

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services is sending more staff to Haiti to help, officials said. CRS has a staff of about 300 in Haiti, including 120 in Port-au-Prince, spokesman John Rivera said. The CRS office in Port-au-Prince survived Tuesday's earthquake and all international staff had been located, Rivera said. However, the relief organization was still trying to account for its Haitian employees, who comprise the majority of CRS's work force.

CRS is also committing an initial $5 million for emergency relief, a number that is expected to increase, and was distributing emergency supplies stockpiled in Haiti and importing more from the neighboring Dominican Republic, Rivera said.

The Miami-based U.S. Southern Command said Wednesday the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti on Thursday.

The carrier, with a crew of about 3,200, recently completed an extensive overhaul at Northrop Grumman's shipbuilding location in Newport News, Va., and had been set to depart this week from Norfolk for its new homeport in San Diego.

The USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship on standby in Baltimore, will leave Monday to assist in the relief effort. The primary mission of the ship is to provide mobile, flexible and rapidly responsive medical help. There was no word on how long the Comfort will be in Haiti.

The Navy said it takes up to five days to increase the 70-member skeleton crew to its full complement of about 800. The almost 900-foot ship is staffed largely by doctors, nurses and technicians from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. It has 12 operating rooms and room for 1,000 hospital beds.

The Comfort visited Haiti in April as part of a four-month mission to the Caribbean and Latin America. It also responded to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Hurricane Katrina.

For a list of ways to help the people of Haiti, click here.

For  complete coverage of the earthquake and aftermath, click here.

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