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Helicopters Are Helping To Deliver Earthquake Aid To Haiti's Rural Areas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An earthquake so damaged Haiti's infrastructure that it's hard to help those affected. It was a magnitude 7.2 quake, and 11 days have not been enough to clear roads blocked by rubble and landslides. Some parts of Haiti's southern peninsula are reachable only by helicopter. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What makes it hard to clear the roads?

KAHN: They're just in very remote areas around the epicenter of that huge, huge quake. And really, they weren't great roads to begin with, and now there's rockslides, like you said. Bridges are out, and some have huge cracks. There also are gangs along many routes, and there's been looting of aid trucks. Charities are getting help from the U.S. and other countries. They're sending in food, but also water purification systems and medical supplies. You know, Steve, I was able, with our producer Christina Cala, to jump on a flight yesterday with the U.S. Army.

INSKEEP: Oh. Well, what was that like?

KAHN: Well, it was in very steep parts of the mountains of Haiti. And, you know, we're on these huge helicopters. And first and foremost on the pilot's mind as we went to the first of two villages on the south side of Haiti was, how do you land this huge aircraft? Let me just play you some sound from the trip, but I just want to set up the scene. We're flying in this CH-47 Chinook helicopter. It's one of the heaviest lifting aircraft. And we're wedged in there with a six-person crew and nearly 10,000 pounds of rice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I have controls.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible) One and two switches on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Let's go one, two.

KAHN: The crew's heading out of the capital's international airport for the south. It's a 30-minute ride by air, but hours by land on a good day. Plans are to drop the rice in two different communities cut off by the quake, one along the coast, but the other, Baraderes, is tucked in this small valley surrounded by steep mountains. We communicate over the aircraft's comm system.

I had a chance to ask our pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas McNamara, what is the biggest challenge of reaching these isolated communities? He says takeoff and landing.

THOMAS MCNAMARA: The buildings are very close to the edge of our landing area (ph).

KAHN: It's hard to hear him over the roar of the rotors. He says the town's houses, made of concrete blocks with tin roofs, are very close to the edge of the soccer field, his landing target. He says they are no match for the hurricane-force winds the Chinook's rotors stir up.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

KAHN: As he eases the aircraft down, no homes are hurt. Hundreds of residents rush to the edges of the field as five soldiers toss out the boxes filled with rice. Fourteen-year-old Edwin Lobobouin says five of his family members were injured in the quake.

EDWIN LOBOBOUIN: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: He says so many houses were destroyed and people hurt, but there are no hospitals to go to. Some flights have taken back injured Haitians, most with wounds infected after more than a week without treatment. And as the crowd swells and edge toward the boxes, the crew rushes us back in the air, headed to the next stop, the coastal town of Anse-a-Veau, to drop off the rest of the rice.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

KAHN: There, 40-year-old Pierre Jacques Mackenzy says everyone is desperate for so much - much more than rice, he says.

PIERRE JACQUES MACKENZY: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: "What we really need now are tents." He says, "Homes are flattened, and we have too many people sleeping under the stars."

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

KAHN: With the last boxes handed off, the crew heads back to Port-au-Prince. There, Colonel Steve Gventer oversees much of the air support missions and says the military doesn't distribute the aid. That's up to the groups and local officials to coordinate.

STEVE GVENTER: It's very tough for us to deliver and then walk away.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR's Carrie Kahn in Haiti. So let's pursue that question, Carrie. How's the coordination going, and is the right aid getting to the right people?

KAHN: Well, we spoke with one man with Haiti's civil protection agency in Anse-a-Veau. He complained that aid groups were like - he just said, walking right past the mayor's office and handing out supplies on their own. He singled out UNICEF. And Steve, we called UNICEF here in Haiti, and a spokesman assured us that all aid drops are coordinated with local officials.

You know, I've been covering natural disasters here for a decade now. And I can tell you that, especially after - remember the devastating 2010 earthquake...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KAHN: ...There was a lot of criticism about coordination. And many groups say they learned lessons from 2010 and are working better together. But remember, Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere. The needs here are immense, overwhelming. Much of the country doesn't have enough food, and there are a lot of groups on the ground. And this was true even before this last powerful quake struck.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks for your reporting, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome, Steve. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.