Cataloging The Dead In Port Au Prince Haiti.

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Sharon is one of the toughest, and most resourceful people I know. In addition to being a single mom, Sharon is a successful business woman who owns and operates her own funeral parlor.

Sharon emailed me today, from Haiti, where she is working as a mortician and cataloging DNA. I had asked her in a previous email what I could do personally to help the people of Haiti. Below is her response to my question, which I have to share because her first hand experience is incredible and inspirational and her matter-of-fact tone is so humbling.

So many people have e-mailed me asking what they can do and my first answer is to always pray. The devistation is hard to articulate, but I’m sure if you’ve seen pictures you have a fairly good idea of the despair people have. Most people are walking around in shock and will likely have these effects for years to come. Money isn’t going to help their mental capacity. Next supplies are needed and I don’t have a handle for what charity is getting aid, food, supplies, medical equipment here the fastest. Personally the US military is meeting a lot of the need from my vantage point. Military personnel are distributing essentials by hand on the ground, they are helicoptering in great big pallets of water and MRE’s and are handing it out. I’ve seen Red Cross personnel easily identified by their vests/jackets but I haven’t seen them distributing essentials. Again though…. I’m not here to pass out stuff so let me not talk bad about them, I’m relaying what I’m seeing when I do get out of this tent and get off an 18 hour shift. Clothes are the next thing, and shoes plenty of people are barefoot… houses are non existent for the most part. Electricty is sporatic- where there is electricity its because military personnel are making it happen. Essentially people have nothing left. They might not have had much before, but they have nothing now.

Believe it or not, search and rescue efforts are still going on. Heavy equipment is desparately needed but I fear that is another thing on the military can get here. Moving great big chunks of concrete can’t be done by hand. Cleanup won’t begin until heavy equipment gets here. There are great cheers when people are removed from the rubble 7 days later. Hospitals though really really need simple things like bandages, compresses, saline solution. Truth of the matter the Hospitals in PaP are at best triage units. People are being stablized on the street and sent on to other hospitals which haven’t suffered so much damage, for more invasive treatments. A LOT of amputations are taking place, there is a need for blood – we’ve been asked to make time to donate blood before we rotate out of here within the next 5 days.

As for me? Well I’m living in a tent city sleeping on the ground basically with a sleeping bag/pallet. There are cots here but for me the ground is more comfortable. No air conditioning, very little power- its all gas generator based and we conserve where we can but we’re operating 24 hours a day. I sleep about 4 to 5 hours – not necessarily at night. We have fresh water for our consumption and for our embalming process but not for our showers – I suggest customs in Miami needs to just let us pass through quietly and without fanfare when we return LOL. Our food is catch as catch can, no such thing as a hot and or hearty meal but its sustinence.

What am I doing? Participating in a DNA cataloging process and providing rather primative body preservation services. Nothing like a full embalm, but enough to retard the decomposition of the dead thus lessoning the possibility of spread of disease. Burying in mass graves with no disinfecting procedures will taint the ground water supplies and further add to the tragedy. There are just so many dead here… and so many people desparate to find out about their loved ones, the DNA catalogue will come in handly later on. Currently we’re just collecting DNA from the dead although people are coming to us for us to take their DNA and provide the match right this minute but we’re not equipped to do so. We’ve been here since Sunday afternoon and had our first 24 hour shift starting at about 3 yesterday afternoon. Set up took a bit of time but things should go smoother from here on out.

Safety concerns: I hear that there have been reports of unrest, but I’ve not experienced it since I’ve been here. Of course I understand if there is any happening- desparation makes people do things they might not normally do. Someone even e-mailed me with the word “savages” and I had to e-mail them back personally to set the record straight. Put yourself in their shoes… hungry, scared, don’t know about their loved ones, sleeping outdoors, the life as they have known it will FOREVER be changed…. how exactly would you act? I don’t have any fear for my safety and no its not because I’m in a sheltered environment, I just understand what people are experiencing. If you feel that these people are in some way no longer human, please don’t e-mail me anymore. Otherwise I just ask that if you’re a prayerful person, say a prayer. If you have it in your heart and capacity to help, please do so. Everything is needed and greatly appreciated.

I’ll try to write again, and answer e-mail when I can. I’ll be back in the states by next Wednesday.

Sharon H.

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