Canadian relief efforts face rough terrain, bad roads in quake-struck Haiti

JACMEL, Haiti — A group of Canadian soldiers found themselves temporarily stranded in the mountains of southern Haiti with their convoy held up by a traffic accident on Sunday.

A work crew from the HMCS Halifax walks through the streets of Jacmel

A work crew from the HMCS Halifax walks through the streets of Jacmel

JACMEL, Haiti — A group of Canadian soldiers found themselves temporarily stranded in the mountains of southern Haiti with their convoy held up by a traffic accident on Sunday.

The incident — in which there were no injuries — offered a vivid illustration of the challenge in distributing supplies through the devastated country.

A Canadian Forces convoy with the army’s only bulldozer in the Jacmel region spent part of the day stuck on a treacherous, winding mountain pass by a cliff.

It was unclear what caused the accident on the cracked and rock-strewn road to the capital, Port-au-Prince, but it represented a temporary setback for efforts to push ahead with Canadian relief efforts from Jacmel, the newly established transport hub on the south coast.

When asked what happened, one soldier quipped: “Mechanical failure.”

The front of one truck was partly caved in, with a front tire dangling off to the side.

Several members of the army’s Disaster Assistance Response Team were stuck on the treacherous road as soldiers tried to repair the damaged vehicles. Among the four vehicles in the stranded convoy was the bulldozer the DART has been using to clear rubble.

Several hours later, most of the convoy had cleared out while some soldiers continued guarding the smashed truck still at the scene.

The international relief mission is shifting as the desperate search for survivors gives way to clearing debris. Damaged homes and roads are being bulldozed, and bodies are being carried away.

Master Cpl. Clint Mainville said the Canadian military was contacting civilian contractors in the hope of renting extra equipment. He said the clearing process will be a long one.

“We’re basically getting rid of all the debris, garbage and rubble off the streets so people can get through,” said Mainville, based in Gagetown, N.B.

“It’s months of work. There’s parts of the city that are totally destroyed. There’s roads that are totally blocked off.”

The difficulty of that task was further underscored by the grim scenes in Jacmel itself.

Just one block away from the centre of Canadian operations by the port, a pair of local construction trucks that might have helped in the clearing effort sat idle, crushed under tonnes of rubble and reduced to macabre monuments to the Jan. 12 earthquake.

But there were also myriad signs of life slowly returning to normal, against all obstacles, for those left behind.

Local teenagers joked and laughed amongst themselves as they walked over piles of rubble.

Churches were packed on Sunday, as usual, and the faithful in one rural parish stood outside the crammed house of worship and strained to get a glimpse through the window.

Men played dominoes on a sidewalk. Women walked long distances balancing jugs of water on their head. One boy darted past a group of women, grinning broadly as he sprinted alongside a two-lane highway flying a kite.

Canadian soldiers figured prominently in Jacmel’s local scenery.

Navy sailors landed ashore carrying picks and shovels to help clear debris.

Soldiers guarded a newly erected tent city where locals received food and water.

In a tent by the beach, Army doctors helped treat a long line of Haitians, ranging from elderly people to pregnant women due to give birth within days.

The medic overseeing the operation, Maj. Annie Bouchard, herself worked with a broken finger after she slipped on the ground earlier this week.

“Happily, most of my tasks are administrative. I can still use my BlackBerry – I have my thumbs,” she said.

Air Force Col. Scott Clancy said “thousands and thousands of pounds” of aid supplies have been shipped through the Jacmel airport, which the Canadian military has helped refurbish.

Military firefighters have been inspecting homes to ensure they’re structurally sound.

Jacmel resident Jonas Noel received the good news that his tiny two-room house was OK to live in.

“We really thank you very much,” said a beaming Noel, standing outside his pink-and-white home. “You have really shown what great friends Canadians are to Haitians.”

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