Logistics A Challenge For Groups Trying To Aid Haiti

Emergency food, medical supplies and personnel are being rushed to Haiti from around the world following Tuesday's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake. But relief organizations say they're struggling to find the best way to get help to those who need it most.

The humanitarian group AmeriCares started moving out almost 10 tons of medical supplies from its warehouses in Stamford, Conn., and Amsterdam shortly after the earthquake hit. The group's president, Curt Welling, said AmeriCares was still trying to figure out the best way to get those supplies into Haiti, but he had no doubt they were urgently needed.

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    Injured people rest in the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday, two days after the devastating 7.0 quake.
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    Rescuers carry an injured girl down the street after digging her out of the rubble Thursday.
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    Virginia Cary, of Cleveland, Tenn. waits at the Port-au-Prince airport in hopes of a return flight to the U.S.
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    Fireman attempt to put out a blaze in Port-au-Prince Thursday.
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    After 50 hours trapped, James Girly, 64, is rescued from the remains of the Montana Hotel by the French military. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
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    Workers dig for bodies in a fight against time.
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    A woman who lost a hand lies on the ground outside a makeshift recovery ward in Port-au-Prince Friday.
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    An injured child waits for medical attention near a damaged hospital in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Friday.
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    People line up to for gasoline. Aid organizations are struggling to get needed resources to survivors.
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    People line up to receive water, an in-demand commodity, from a firetruck in Port-au-Prince.
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    Earthquake survivors use water from a fountain to bathe in the central public garden of Port-au-Prince.
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    People wave at a helicopter in the center of Port-au-Prince. Aid efforts are slow to reach the Haitian capital.
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    The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming relief efforts.
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    Bolivian U.N. Blue Helmet soldiers stand guard at an aid center in Port-au-Prince as a group of Haitians carries a victim.
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    A staff member from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, treats an injured man.
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    Men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross estimates that more than 50,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake.
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    A member of the Fairfax Country Urban Search & Rescue Team and her K-9 partner search the U.N. Headquarters for more survivors after freeing a man who was trapped for 40 hours in the rubble.
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    Aid trickled in Thursday morning. Here, Maurice Cain, senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, unloads humanitarian supplies from Panama at the Port-au-Prince airport.
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    A U.N. peacekeeper from Chile works in the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
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    With thousands missing and the death toll climbing, dazed survivors wander amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince two days after the devastating earthquake.
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    Haitians walk though streets filled with rubble and bodies.
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    Displaced people create makeshift shelters out of tarps and sheets.
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    A woman prepares a bed in the street Tuesday night after the quake.
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    Many Haitians spent a second night on the streets. Here, people gather on a square in Port-au-Prince's Petionville district.
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    Members of the congregation of First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. pray for the earthquake victims Thursday. The pastor's son is believed to have been killed in the quake.
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    Members of Canada's Haitian community comfort each other at the Haitian-Canadian Community Center in Montreal.
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"So the nature of our response is to get that kind of thing there as quickly as possible, when it really does save lives and prolong lives," he said. "And then to get people on the ground so we can begin to make an informed decision about where the gaps are and where the most urgent needs are."

And that's a big challenge for relief groups, which are hampered by a lack of information from within Haiti. While food, water, shelter and medical supplies are clearly in need, logistics are a challenge. Tracy Reines, director of international disaster response for the American Red Cross, says her organization sent a helicopter over the damaged country Tuesday to figure out which roads were passable. It's trying to bring in emergency response teams and supplies from neighboring Dominican Republic.

A girl is given water by a French aid worker at a makeshift field hospital in Port-au-Prince. i i

An injured girl is given water by a French aid worker at a makeshift field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday. Governments and aid agencies launched a massive relief operation after a powerful earthquake rocked the nation. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A girl is given water by a French aid worker at a makeshift field hospital in Port-au-Prince.

An injured girl is given water by a French aid worker at a makeshift field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday. Governments and aid agencies launched a massive relief operation after a powerful earthquake rocked the nation.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"The initial needs right now are certainly search and rescue and health and hospitals. So that's the first piece going in," Reines said. "The second piece is going to be working with people who are injured and unfortunately who have lost their lives."

But exactly what comes next, she says, will be determined by what Red Cross personnel find when they get there.

"We have to balance the instinct to put people on planes and go in to help with really targeting what is going to be most effective and efficient," Reines said.

And that could take a few days. Emergency relief experts say after a big disaster, everyone wants to help immediately. But sometimes that means duplicating efforts, while missing some of those most in need. In this case, the relief effort has been further complicated by the fact that aid groups already in Haiti — including the United Nations — were directly affected by the earthquake, suffering losses in personnel and facilities.

Kip Scheidler, who handles global disaster response for Habitat for Humanity, says the needs will also change day to day.

"Within a very short amount of time, a matter of days, the families will be returning to the site of their home, and they'll begin clean up," he said. "Our response more than likely will include helping those families in the clean up of the sites and the reconstruction of their homes."

Habitat has sent in a team of experts to try to link up with the group's 50 staffers already in the country. His group, like other nonprofits, says if people want to help the relief effort, they should send money. Many organizations already have links on their Web sites for Haitian relief. Even the U.S. State Department is encouraging people to contribute $10 to the Red Cross by sending a text message.

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But Bennett Weiner of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns donors to be careful.

"Because, unfortunately, there are some in the wake of such tragedies that will seek to take advantage of the emotion of the moment and perhaps send out questionable or fraudulent appeals," he said.

He advises giving only to well-known relief groups and then to give directly, avoiding potential online scams. Relief agencies also say, while food and clothing drives are well-intentioned, they're seldom the best way to help.

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