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Associated Press/Photo by John Heller


Earthquake | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti

A relief flight carrying dozens of young children from an orphanage in Haiti arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, accompanied by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. The Air Force flight brought 53 children, all under the age of 4, to western Pennsylvania, where freezing temperatures greeted orphans accustomed to sunny days in the 80s and 90s-but they also were met by adoptive parents ready to give them a home outside the earthquake zone.

Sisters from Pittsburgh who run the BRESMA orphanage in Port-au-Prince, which was destroyed in the Jan. 12 quake, have been caring for about 150 young children out of doors. Ali and Jamie McMutrie supervised the orphanage through Center of Life, a "faith-based, community empowerment organization" connected to Keystone Church of Hazelwood in Pittsburgh.

Medical workers from the children's hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center awaited the children as they arrived, and a temporary courtroom was set up in the hospital to finalize the processing of adoptions. Parents from all over the country came to the Steel City to meet the children, whose legal adoptions already were underway when the quake hit. The U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security on Monday issued a temporary policy known as "humanitarian parole," which allows orphaned children who qualify from Haiti to enter the United States on an individual basis to receive care. The State Department also has extended protection to Haitian nationals visiting in the United States at the time of the quake, allowing them to remain in the in the country an additional 18 months.

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Children under the age of 14 make up over 38 percent of Haiti's population, and over 1 million of the nation's 8.5 million people are orphans. Relief organizations could not help but focus on their plight as disaster recovery entered its second week.

Colorado Springs-based Compassion International sponsors 64,000 children in Haiti and pledged to its donors last week that it would work to account for all of them. The organization also had to search for its own workers in Haiti-35 of its 75 staff members had not been accounted for as of Jan. 15. Two U.S.-based Compassion employees had just returned to the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when the quake struck. Web technician Dan Woolley spent 60 hours trapped in the rubble of the hotel before he was rescued; his colleague David Hames, a Compassion contract worker who specializes in children's video production, remains missing.

"For all the people who know and love David with me, we need to remember that God says, 'Be still and know that I am God.' He is our God who will provide beauty and joy even in the midst of devastation," Hames' wife, Renee, said to churchgoers Sunday at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, where the family attends. "I have been blessed with friends who have tucked me under their wings and have prayed with me, encouraged me, supported me, and cried with me. Because of the support structure they have built around me, I have felt a great peace. Please continue to pray for David's rescue and well-being."

Woolley underwent surgery in Miami on Tuesday and is recovering. While trapped beneath the rubble, the self-proclaimed "gadget geek" used his camera and his first aid iPhone apps to treat his own injuries and find safer locations. He also used the time while trapped to pray with fellow victims and lead one of the hotel's Haitian bellhops in the prayer of salvation, according to a statement released by Compassion.

Despite uncertainty and continuing hardship, faith-based relief groups reported progress in getting aid to needed distribution points in and around Haiti's capital. ActionAid reported that its first shipment of emergency supplies had arrived, "and the people we work with are getting high-energy emergency food until supplies of flour and cooking oil arrive in the next few days," said country director Jean Claude Fignole. "Aid is getting to the people who desperately need it." The group plans to distribute water purification tablets on Wednesday. "They're drinking water direct from a stream and a spring near their makeshift camp," he said, acknowledging, "This is only the start. There is so much more to do."

Samaritan's Purse, initially blocked along with other groups from landing relief flights in Port-au-Prince, said it has now put several dozen health professionals and other emergency staff on the ground and has been working to provide medical and other care since last week. Those flights also brought in, according to medical adviser David Gettle, temporary shelters, blankets, hygiene kits, jerry cans, flashlights, water purification sachets, water purification kits, and two community water filters.


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