By Kitty Caparella and Dafney Tales
Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA — Thirteen Haitian-American city police officers, so moved by last week's devastating earthquake, urged top brass to let them go to Haiti to help in the epic rescue and humanitarian relief efforts.
But Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and others convinced them that they could do much more here. Ramsey assigned them for 30 days to lead a citywide drive for critically needed donations to save lives in their ancestral home of nearly 4 million.
The 13 officers "all have families over there. For them, this is a labor of love," said Chief Inspector James Tiano.
Tiano said that the doors of the city's 22 police precincts will be opened today to accept donations for the starving, injured and dying Haitians, after another aftershock rocked the island yesterday.
News of the police plan came on a day in which the web of humanity binding the disaster-struck island and the Philadelphia region grew closer - as four severely injured quake victims recovered in city hospitals while hundreds of refugees landed at a South Jersey Air Force base.
Sgt. Rodney Poliard, who heads the police Haitian relief squad, said that a preliminary list of needed items include: baby food, baby formula, diapers, baby wipes - for children and adults - nonperishable food that does not require a can opener, first-aid supplies, tents, tarps, new sheets and blankets, solar-powered flashlights, shoes, sandals and cases of water.
No clothing will be accepted, and cash donations should be made to the American Red Cross, said Tiano.
He said that he expected to contact relief agencies this morning to coordinate an airlift to deliver Philadelphia donations.
Poliard will be giving out assignments to 12 police officers, one correctional officer, two Philadelphia School police and two Trenton officers on the newly-formed squad.
All are Haitian-American, speak Haitian-Creole and/or French, and have close ties to the Haitian community here. Many Haitians live in Logan, but others are dispersed throughout the city.
Some officers said they expect to drive trucks or vans to pick up donations and deliver them to police warehouses. Others will load or unload goods, reach out to community groups and answer calls.
All week, the officers called members of their families desperately seeking to learn about their Haitian relatives.
"My mom has been in touch with the closest members of our family," said officer Marc Metullus, of the 5th District. His brother, officer Joe Metallus, of the 16th, added: "Only a distant relative is dead in Port-au-Prince."
Roosevelt Pierre, a 39th District officer, said that he was was relieved after "I talked to my father [Saturday] afternoon."
Last night, the officers met with Haitian clergy, professionals and others to coordinate relief efforts.
"It's going to be a long process," said Picard Losier, an attorney who operates Radio Haiti, a subcarrier of WRTI-FM, in a 90-mile radius. "Everything is going to have to be rebuilt."
Meanwhile, three Haitian women who were pulled from rubble that had crushed their legs are now thanking doctors in Philadelphia for saving their lives.
The women had been placed in hospital beds in Haiti's National Hospital, where limited resources and overcrowding would have determined their fate.
But the women - ages 21, 27 and 32 - were airlifted into the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania yesterday morning for "life-saving" surgeries, said officials at the hospital during a news conference. The news was released after the hours-long procedures left two of the women each without a leg yesterday.
"The first thing they said to us when they could, was 'Thank you,' " said Scott Levin, one of the surgeons and chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surery at Penn Medicine. .
Doctors who performed the required amputations - one above the knee and another one below the knee - said that if any more time had elapsed, the toxins from dead tissue would have killed them.
Two of the women are listed in stable condition, the third is critical.
Meanwhile, a 4 1/2-year-old Haitian boy is in serious condition at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia after undergoing surgery. He was flown into Philadelphia, along with his father, shortly after 4 a.m. yesterday, said a CHOP spokeswoman last night.
The four patients were the first chosen in a relief program sponsored by the joint efforts of Boston-based group Partners in Health, the State Department and Homeland Security.
Hospital officials say that as of now there are no plans to transport more severely injured earthquake victims, but they are encouraging members of the Haitian community to embrace the patients.
"We're hoping that members of the Haitian community will help," said Marc Kaplan, HUP spokesman. He noted that employees of a local Haitian restaurant cooked native dishes for the patients, who doctors say are lucid.
Meanwhile, evacuees from the Caribbean country are continuing to arrive at McGuire Air Force Base, in Burlington County, as military cargo planes flying supplies to the devastated country return with survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck Tuesday.
In the last few days, 579 Haitian evacuees, many of whom are American citizens, have been provided food, cots, clothes and toiletries, said Angel Lopez, a spokeswoman for the base.
Officials also helped victims contact relatives or figure out their next move.
Since Wednesday, Air Force airmen have flown more than 600 short tons of emergency cargo.
Today, a second contingent from Cooper University Hospital will head to Haiti at 11 a.m. The first group of doctors and nurses left yesterday at noon.
Copyright 2010 Philadelphia Daily News