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American Forces Press Service

Military Engineers Help Haiti Build Better Future

By Judith Snyderman
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2010 – Efforts to help Haiti rebuild after a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake will continue after the joint U.S. military task force there winds down at the end of May, the task force’s chief engineer said yesterday.

Navy Capt. James Wink recapped progress and outlined plans for the next phase of recovery during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable discussion.

Wink witnessed overwhelming scenes of destruction in Haiti when he arrived there Jan. 29. “The amount of rubble that is caused by this earthquake is 25 million cubic yards,” he said. “To put that in a picture, that’s five Louisiana Superdomes filled with rubble.”

Logistics, rather than technical engineering obstacles, posed the greatest challenges, Wink said. Many people were still living on the streets of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince at the end of January, he told the bloggers, so engineers began working in a triage mode to move people into shelter. “Before we could do anything else,” he added, “we had to get the rubble out of the way.”

Throughout the operation, Wink said, he’s been impressed by the unified effort as the joint task force worked in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, international representatives and Haitian officials. The triple mission everyone is working toward, explained, is to establish a basic level of functioning shelter, sanitation and settlement for earthquake victims.

An initial priority for engineers was to assess the main seaport which was heavily damaged. Analysis showed that the port’s north pier was a complete loss, Wink said, but by the end of February, Seabees and Army divers had repaired the south pier well enough to allow small watercraft to relay critical humanitarian supplies from ships stationed offshore to troops at the pier, who transported them to stranded civilians.

By the end of March, he added, the south pier was fully operational, and the port is now being run entirely by Haitian authorities with no Defense Department involvement.

Now, Wink said, engineers are focused on mitigating dangers from flash floods and landslides during the upcoming rainy season for people living in camps.

“We’re [working with] some of the Japanese and [U.S.] Navy Seabees inside some of those camps to install drainage systems and to build reinforcements to some of the walls,” he said. The task force also is supporting the United Nations in building camps north of the capital city so displaced people can be moved out of harm’s way.

Although Joint Task Force Haiti will be deactivated at the end of next month, Wink said, some Navy Seabees will remain to work on a new “Operation New Horizons” mission. Equipment is flowing in now to help in building community centers and schools in association with the mission.

Wink credited the service and sacrifice of U.S. troops and their families -- including the contributions of Navy Seabees and Army and Air Force engineers -- with much progress to date. But he also recognized the resilience of the Haitian people.

“These people are dealing with a disaster that is almost unexplainable in U.S. terms,” he said. “They are living in conditions that are foreign to us. Yet, with a little bit of hope and a little bit of help, they just pick up and move on,” he said.

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