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For emergency medical teams, time and coordination are of the essence in Haiti
Some experts who have worked in the country predict that even experienced relief groups will face severe problems making themselves useful.
Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a physician and co-founder of Partners in Health, an organization that has worked in Haiti for years, said few groups know how to operate there.
"You can't go into Haiti with a plan that is 85 percent or 90 percent realized and expect to get a little bit of help on the ground," he said. "There is no infrastructure on the ground to help. So if you send in a plane fully loaded but expect someone on the ground to help unload it, you are going to find it is impossible."
In a 2006 study of 34 earthquakes going back to the early 1980s, researchers at GWU found no credible reports of people who survived 14 days after the disaster. There were five live rescues at least 10 days after collapse, and 42 between five and 10 days after. Fatalities ranged from fewer than 100 in six earthquakes to five with more than 15,000. The largest temblor in the study occurred in Iran on June 20, 1990, and killed 40,000 to 50,000 people.
Barbera, one of the GWU researchers, is hopeful there will be numerous late "saves" in Haiti.
"With devastation this wide, and the number of structures affected, one would expect there would be rescues for at least another three to five days. It's possible," he said.
Rescuers speak of a "golden 48 hours" for saving earthquake victims, analogous to the "golden hour" for starting treatment in people with penetrating trauma and shock. That time, however, has passed in Haiti.
Staff writer Valerie Strauss contributed to this report.