By Jillian Jorgensen
As Dennis Covey watched news coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, the 51-year-old retired Salem firefighter wanted to help in any way he could.
“I just said, ‘We’ve got to go,'” he said yesterday.
Covey, a lieutenant with the Fire Department who now lives in Palm Bay, Fla., said he could not make a big financial contribution. But he could afford a plane ticket to the Dominican Republic and a rental car once he got there.
“We just got a map and left,” he said.
Covey spent the next week in Haiti, using his paramedic skills to help injured people and his firefighting skills to search for survivors. His son, Daniel, 24, and a friend, John Dillegan, a firefighter in East Chicago, Ind., went along. The trio returned to Florida on Wednesday.
“We were kind of playing it by ear at first,” Covey said.
They brought as many supplies as they could to the country, but did not know where to stay. When they arrived in Port-au-Prince, they found a United Nations base where peacekeepers gave them identification cards, a place to stay, and supplies.
“We had to do a lot of improvising,” Covey said. “We didn’t have the supplies we needed, so we kind of made things up as we went along, especially with trying to keep clean.”
Covey said they visited the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and other areas nearby where there were no relief efforts at all.
“These are people that had nothing before and now they have less,” he said. “They have less than nothing right now.”
With the guidance of U.N. doctors, Covey cared for people crushed by falling debris.
“I was performing minor surgical procedures on people because we couldn’t get them to a hospital,” he said.
Covey, a Gulf War veteran, said the devastation in Haiti was unlike anything he ever witnessed.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It was dead bodies everywhere.”
Covey said it was especially difficult to see how many children were in need. When they arrived at a camp with food, water and medicine, the food and water would be gone in minutes.
“We’d go to a camp and there would be hundreds of (kids),” he said. “You thought you had enough supplies and you’d get halfway through, and it’d be empty.”
Covey said people on the street were bartering to try and get food and water. Children walked around barefoot and in pajamas. He saw some Haitians with large sticks and then realized they were using them to build shelter.
“People would take four of these sticks and five bedsheets and make a house,” he said.
Covey did not see any rioting among the people he visited. When Haitians saw relief workers, they always smiled, he said.
“The people, for as little as they have, they just keep going,” he said. “They’re very persevering.”
But the earthquake has taken its toll. He said mothers would bring him their children, saying there was something wrong with their eyes. Covey would examine them, but said he could never find anything medically wrong.
“They had this dead look to them,” he said. “Like they had no hope.”
Covey plans to head back to Haiti next month, and wants to return every one or two months as the country continues to recover.
“We’re going to concentrate on one little area,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, three people can’t make much of an impact. In one little area, I think we did.”
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