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Market crowd stands between medical group and the injured

Tuesday, January 19, 2010; A10

The group of doctors, emergency room nurses and others needed to get across the bridge at the Dominican border quickly Monday. They were on a bus, trying to get to a small plane that would fly them to the Haitian city of Jacmel.

But it was market day at the border, and that meant thousands of people sweating in the bright sun, arguing over the price of a sack of macaroni, carrying chairs on their heads, flirting, buying diapers. People banged on the bus as it slugged along or tapped on the windows to sell fruit ices when it stopped. The bus inched along, stopped by people carrying 50-pound sacks of sugar on their heads, or plastic bags stuffed with hundreds of sausages, or wheelbarrows full of oranges.

"This is chaos," said Suzie Miller, an emergency doctor from Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia.

No one knew what to do, and no one could get through to anyone on a cellphone. Most of them had already given up their passports to a longtime Haiti relief worker, Neil Van Dine, who was now in another vehicle.

They waited, watching the market throng around the bus, counting the minutes before they would have missed their chance at the plane to Jacmel. A worker from the group coordinating the trip, the Community Coalition for Haiti, was waiting on the other side of the narrow bridge, ready to race them along rough dirt roads through the mountains to the grass airstrip.

Minutes stretched into more than an hour.

But no one much liked the idea of walking across the teeming, narrow bridge into Haiti loaded with medical supplies, luggage and lots of cash.

And no passports.

The night before, Van Dine had warned of challenges: "This is going to be difficult. Because you're trying to go right into it. Right into the chaos."

-- Susan Kinzie

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