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#3520: Riding waves of mercy... (fwd)
Riding waves of mercy_____Quick action, medical knowledge helped
vacationers save 288 Haitians
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske - Cox News Service May 7 2000
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- They dropped anchor near one of many deserted
tropical isles in the Bahamas, ready to relax. Somebody broke out a
bottle of German white wine, and the three couples settled in to share
stories of their adventures. What they saw next would become their most
shocking tale of all.First, they noticed the gray hull of a sailboat.
Just a flash of mast that disappeared around a curve of the barren
Flamingo Cay. Then, a dozen people staggered over the crest of the
island, waving yellow flags and empty water containers, their dark
faces a sharp contrast to the white sand. The three couples watched
as the beach filled with ailing families and made a decision that would
save lives -- 288 in all. The people they would comfort and nourish were
refugees fleeing Haiti who had been marooned late last month without
food or water after a desperate 11-day sea journey. "We were relaxing
and talking like old friends do," Carol Ogden, 50, of Port St. Lucie,
Fla., said by telephone from Georgetown, Bahamas, on Thursday.
"When we saw people coming over the hill, we knew something was wrong."
She and her husband, Jack, and two other couples --including Dr. Peter
Berry and his wife, Louise, from Atlanta -- piled into dinghies and came
ashore at about 5 p.m. There they found the first of two dead bodies
awash in the surf and a crowd of desperate men, women and children.
Berry, a retired physician,quickly saw that the Haitians couldn't live
more than 24 hours without water.He began sorting through the weak and
battered group of some 80 to 100 refugees, attempting to care for
them amid the chaos. None of the rescuers spoke French, but a man named
Etienne spoke a little English. The boat's captain and crew spoke
Spanish."Where is the village?" they asked. "Which way to the States?"
As more Haitians arrived from the other side of the rocky hill, where
Coast Guard officers later found a wrecked sailboat, the American
couples returned to their boats to begin generating fresh water.
Many of the refugees could barely swallow, Berry said. He had to hold
one pregnant woman's head while he poured water into her mouth. In
all, the Ogdens and Berrys distributed more than 200 gallons of water
while ministering to the Haitians on April 26 and the next day, until
Coast Guard helicopters arrived with food and minimal medical
supplies.The couples left Flamingo Cay just before the last refugees,
and docked in Georgetown, the first port where the Haitians were
treated. There Berry, 60, was attempting to set up a fund for sailors
like himself to contribute to the medical clinic in Georgetown to aid
the refugees."We all drank a little too much rum trying to forget, but
we stayed up all night again. The images, they're hard to forget," said
Berry, calling the fund "a token effort." "We all probably take away
more than we give," he said.Most of the Haitians have recovered, and
Bahamian authorities have already returned about 200 to Haiti.
The two couples returned to Flamingo Cay two days after the rescue and
found the beach deserted, cleared of trash bags that held the refugees'
possessions, their plastic hangers and soaked clothing. Although they
hope the fund in Georgetown will help future refugees, Peter Berry and
Carol Ogden said the problem they faced on the beach will not disappear
as easily as the 288 refugees without greater U.S. political aid and
attention. "We don't feel the problems the Haitians are facing
should be solved on the beaches," Ogden said. "People are always blaming
the Coast Guard for not getting there soon enough, but they cannot solve
the humanitarian issues."