February 1, 2010
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Florida Agencies, FTA Provide Aid to Haiti
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Florida has one of the largest Haitian communities in the U.S., so—after the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake in that country leveled much of the island nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince—Florida Gov. Charlie Crist mobilized an array of emergency responses, and public transportation agencies in Orlando and Miami added their resources to the multi-dimensional effort to meet the needs of evacuees.
For example, LYNX, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Orlando, helped as Orlando Sanford International Airport became a hub for evacuation planning. LYNX Chief Executive Officer Linda Watson noted that the agency was able to join efforts at the federal, state, and local levels from the first day by adapting its existing emergency preparedness plans, originally created for hurricane evacuations, and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will ultimately provide reimbursement for the agency’s costs in this effort.
As of Jan. 25, the Orlando region welcomed 80 flights carrying 4,539 U.S. citizens and 1,752 foreign nationals evacuated from Haiti, as well as 59 people transported for medical reasons. The Sanford airport—the region’s second airport, used mostly for charter flights from Europe—has become the hub of evacuation efforts by the National Guard, American Red Cross, Florida Department of Children and Families, and numerous other agencies.
Many of LYNX’s bus operators are natives of Haiti and can communicate with passengers in Creole. “After the first couple of days when other organizations saw they were having translation problems, specifically with information about transportation options, they asked if we could have our Haitian operators help,” Watson said.
The primary role of LYNX in this effort is to transport evacuees from the Sanford facility to Orlando International Airport and the Amtrak and Greyhound facilities in Orlando. “If we’re asked to, we’ll add service” to help the evacuees, she said, noting that supervisors with vans are available to provide specific trips.
Watson said the foreign nationals who have arrived in Sanford have passports and most have family in the U.S.; they include both Haitians and visitors from other countries. Among the evacuees are more than 100 orphans meeting adoptive parents; other minors going to temporary foster homes in the Orlando area; and many people with physical and/or mental health concerns.
“It’s a pretty amazing operation, with hundreds if not thousands of people helping,” she said, adding: “It’s a massive coordination effort.”
In Miami-Dade County
As of Jan. 26 in Miami-Dade County, meanwhile, Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) transported more than 2,000 people to Homestead Air Force Base, located approximately 25 miles southwest of Miami. The agency continues to provide round-the-clock service with four buses, eight bus operators, and three supervisors to help Haitian evacuees, missionary workers, and others travel to the base, a central site for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Haitian evacuees receive transportation to designated areas where they can reunite with local family members, while aid providers travel to Miami International Airport or local hotels.
MDT’s support efforts are being coordinated through the Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Management, along with staff from the base and the county’s Aviation Department.
“We are proud to be able to help mobilize so many relief workers who are providing aid to the people of Haiti, as well as those in Haiti that come to Miami to be reunited with their families,” said MDT Director Harpal S. Kapoor.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) also is participating in the rescue efforts in Haiti by making transit ferry Cayo Largo from San Juan, PR, available. FTA deployed the ferry immediately, carrying search and rescue teams, vehicles, and medicine from San Juan to the port of Baraona, Dominican Republic. Two other ferries—the Alakai and the Huakai, both retired from service in Hawaii—earlier joined the effort as part of a six-vessel Merchant Marine force.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, center, greets an evacuee from Haiti at Orlando Sanford International Airport. LYNX is providing buses, including the one at rear, for emergency transportation.