DEBORAH AMOS, host:
From Massachusetts, Melinda Miles has been fielding calls from Americans who want to volunteer in Haiti. She is the executive director of an NGO called Working Together For Haiti. Good morning.
Ms. MELINDA MILES (Executive Director, Working Together For Haiti): Good morning.
AMOS: What are you telling Americans who call up and say I just want to do something? I will go and clear debris or distribute supplies, whatever is needed. What do you tell them?
Ms. MILES: Well, we're telling people that's going to be absolutely necessary but don't try to go yet. Right now the Port-au-Prince airport is still closed down and people who are in Port-au-Prince are isolated in different parts of the city and unable to travel around. So we're just asking people to stay put for now and to find projects that can use them in Haiti before they get on a plane to go there.
AMOS: And is money better than hands on the ground?
Ms. MILES: At this moment I would say yes. There are some operations already on the ground in Haiti that are poised to use funds immediately, and that is going to be the first wave of response. However, there will be an opportunity for people to go and help Haiti. I don't think it's today. I think today's the day to send your funds and to connect with groups that can use your hands in the future.
AMOS: What are you concerns about getting this aid operation organized?
Ms. MILES: Some of the concerns that I have stem just basically from basic shelter. Food, water and medical care are so huge right now for the people who are already in the city. I'm frightened that if more people show up - tons of volunteers - and they don't have structures to be inserted into to be useful, that it could just be a further strain on an already chaotic situation.
AMOS: The photographs and images from Haiti are so wrenching, and to know that the need is so great - people are shocked now. Is there some danger that there's a safety issue in Haiti as well for aid organizations?
Ms. MILES: Absolutely. I think that we're going to look at concerns with establishing security in Port-au-Prince so that people feel safe again. The population was totally in shock for the first 12 hours, more than 30 aftershocks. Those emotions are starting to turn into fear and anger in some places where the rescues have not come yet and where the response has been so slow.
AMOS: Even without an earthquake, Haiti has severe problems. So how does this emergency differ from disasters in other countries?
Ms. MILES: This is very wide scale and it hasn't affected sort of the - we talk about the poorest of the poor in Haiti and how they are living in makeshift homes, many by the sea. (Unintelligible) like this, a home made out of corrugated tin and cardboard may have withstood the earthquake better than buildings that are several stories high.
So we're looking at a situation where, for example, the very nice Hotel Montana has fallen onto a slum area in a ravine. And people who are living in slum areas that were not built out of cinder blocks may have fared better.
AMOS: And do you think that we are losing far more people than we should because there is no way to get to them?
Ms. MILES: I absolutely think that's true. And one group that I've been working with for a long out of the Delmar region opened their doors yesterday and used up all their supplies. They had Haitian doctors walking in off the street to help serve the population. So it's going to be very critical for groups that are on the ground to set up areas where people can come and receive that emergency medical aid and have their basic needs met.
AMOS: Thank you very much.
Ms. MILES: Thank you.
AMOS: Melinda Miles is head of Working Together for Haiti.
INSKEEP: And here's a reminder that aid is beginning to arrive from around the world. A Chinese jet said to be carrying tons of supplies plus search and rescue experts has arrived in Haiti, and more than 50 people in orange jumpsuits got out of that plane accompanied by trained dogs.
Later today, the American aircraft carrier USS Carl Vincent is expected off the Haitian coast. It's going to help with relief. And more U.S. Navy ships are underway, including one carrying 2,000 U.S. Marines. The need is desperate though. A doctor's assistant in Port-au-Prince says this is worst than a hurricane. There is no water and thirsty people are going to die.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.