U.S. military to resume airlifts to Haiti quake victims
MIAMI (AP) -- The U.S. military will resume bringing Haitian earthquake victims to the United States aboard its planes for medical treatment, ending a suspension that lasted several days, the White House said Sunday.
The military had brought hundreds of critically injured Haitians to the United States aboard its planes before halting the flights on Wednesday. Since then, at least a handful of patients were flown on civilian aircraft, and other flights continued to carry U.S. citizens and other mostly non-injured passengers.
Late Sunday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the medical airlift was on track to resume by early Monday. The White House received assurances that additional medical capacity exists in the U.S. and among its international partners for the patients.
"We determined that we can resume these critical flights," Vietor said. "Patients are being identified for transfer, doctors are making sure that it is safe for them to fly, and we are preparing specific in-flight pediatric care aboard the aircraft where needed."
Exactly what led to the suspension of medical evacuation flights was unclear, though military officials had said some states refused to take patients. Officials in Florida, one of the main destinations for military flights leaving Haiti, say no patients were ever turned away. However, the suspension took effect after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist sent a letter Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the state's hospitals were reaching a saturation point.
The letter also asked for federal help paying for patient expenses - a request Crist on Sunday said could have been misinterpreted. He also said federal officials have indicated he would receive help covering the costs, totaling more than $7 million.
Crist told ABC News' "Good Morning America" on Sunday he was puzzled by the suspension. Military planes carrying 700 U.S. citizens, legal residents and other foreign nationals landed in central Florida over the past 24 hours, and three of those people required medical care at hospitals, state officials said. However, Florida had not received any critical patients needing urgent care since the halt, said Sterling Ivey, the governor's spokesman.
"We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and are happy to continue to do so," Crist said.
Col. Rick Kaiser said Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to build a 250-bed tent hospital in Haiti to relieve pressure on facilities where earthquake victims are being treated under tarpaulins.
Several hospitals in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were damaged or destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said about 435 earthquake victims had been evacuated before the suspension.
Individual hospitals were still able to arrange private medical flights - such as one Sunday that brought three critically ill children to a hospital in Philadelphia.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said the trio arrived Sunday afternoon. One is a 5-year-old girl with tetanus, the second, a 14-month-old boy with pneumonia, and the third is a baby suffering from 3rd degree burn from sun exposure after the quake.
Doctors have said the makeshift facilities in Haiti aren't equipped to treat such critical conditions and warn that patients in similar condition could die if they aren't treated in U.S. hospitals.
Crist also has asked Sebelius for better coordination of the evacuations.
The state had been relying on air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport to relay information about the evacuations because the U.S. military flights headed to the state without notice, David Halstead, the Florida Division of Emergency Management's interim director, said Sunday.
"The governor's request is, 'Just tell us a plan,'" Halstead said.
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