Haitian Orphans Arrive in PittsburghA charity relief mission carrying dozens of young children from an orphanage in earthquake-ravaged Haiti has arrived in Pittsburgh.
Fifty-three children, along with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, were on the Air Force flight, which landed at Pittsburgh International Airport about 9:30 a.m. ET.
"I'm so proud to bring these kids back to Pittsburgh. It's awesome!" said Alison McMutrie, who with her sister had been caring for approximately 150 children at the orphanage they run in Port-au-Prince. "I think I'm dreaming. I don't know when I'm going to wake up."
Workers, some carrying children, disembarked the plane and boarded waiting buses. Other children walked by themselves and waved to onlookers.
Some children were wrapped in blankets as they adjusted to the Pittsburgh weather - 32°F and overcast, compared to the sun and 82° temperatures they had left behind.
Medical workers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and, in some cases, adoptive families are waiting for them.
The children were taken to UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to be examined by pediatricians, hospital spokesman Marc Lukasiak said.
About 100 other children from their orphanage are being cared for by Dutch and French agencies.
"When we found out everyone was okay and everyone was alive and we knew we had to take action, I never imagined that this is how it would turn out," McMutrie said at a press conference.
"It was a long week, it was a really tough week living in a driveway with hundreds of children, but the fact that we're here now is certainly worth it, and just thank you to everyone.
She said the children were happy to arrive: "They know that they're coming home and hopefully to go home to their adoptive parents. The kids felt hopeless, too, because Haiti's in a really bad state right now. But they're doing great. There are some kids who had become dehydrated, running some fevers, basic baby stuff, but the team that came have almost nurtured them back to health already - everyone just took someone under their wing and took care of them."
Marc Cherna, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, said it was hoped that, once the children were cleared medically, their adoptions could be finalized promptly.
Many of the adoptive parents were done with the legal process when the earthquake hit, Cherna told told CBS Station KDKA. "Now hopefully we can finish it up."
To that end, a courtroom has been set up at Children's Hospital and the adoptive parents are arriving from all over the country. "The judges are all set," Cherna said. "We expect a good portion of these children will be adopted today."
The landing capped days of preparations and maneuvering by American caretakers, lawmakers and government officials. The orphans were cared for by two Pittsburgh-area sisters whose network of family and friends used Facebook and Twitter to let the world know they were in dire need of food, water, diapers - and a plane to ferry them out of Port-au-Prince after last week's massive earthquake.
Gov. Rendell, a crew of medical personnel and several Congressmen also were on the flight that carried the group out of Haiti late Monday and headed for Orlando, Fla. He told reporters that Alison's sister, Jamie, is still in Orlando with the 54th child, pending completion of paperwork. He said preparations are being made to fly them up to Pittsburgh.
Jamie McMutrie arrived in the Haitian capital in 2006, and with her sister (who moved there two years ago) run an orphanage called BRESMA.
After last week's earthquake destroyed much of the Haitian capital, the sisters contacted officials at UPMC, who in turn contacted the governor. Rendell reached the Haitian ambassador to the United States on Sunday, said the governor's spokesman, Gary Tuma.
The ambassador advised Rendell it would be "a good idea for the governor to be personally on the flight" because he could use his stature to cut through red tape, the spokesman said.
The youngsters on the plane ranged in age from 1 to 4, Tuma said. Dutch and French agencies were caring for the other 100 or so children from the orphanage, which was badly damaged, he said.
CBS News correspondent Seth Doane visited another orphanage on Monday, on the east side of Port-au-Prince. It was completely collapsed in the quake. But 78 kids survived - orphans who have lost their home once again. If it wasn't for one woman's dedication to the youngsters, they would be alone amid the rubble.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano answered widespread calls Monday and implemented a temporary policy known as "humanitarian parole" which allows orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States on an individual basis to receive care.
The beneficiaries of the policy fall into two categories:
• Haitian children already in the process of being adopted by U.S. citizens (and already approved for inter-country adoption by the government of Haiti), and
• Those previously identified as eligible for inter-country adoption and have been matched to U.S. citizen prospective adoptive parents.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to help reunite families in Haiti during this very difficult time," Napolitano in a press release. "While we remain focused on family reunification in Haiti, authorizing the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States will allow them to receive the care they need here."
It wasn't immediately clear what stage in the international adoption process the children on the plane were in prior to their arrival.
Laurent said one of the physicians on the plane, Dr. Chip Lambert, is an emergency physician who regularly does medical missions for Brother's Brother Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based charity relief agency.
Luke Hingson, president of Brother's Brother, said the organizer of the relief effort wished to remain anonymous. He said his charity was limited to gathering and sending surgical, hygienic and other supplies.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center planned to care for the orphans through its Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Laurent said Allegheny General Hospital, West Penn's flagship, is "prepared to admit some of these children if necessary" to its inpatient pediatrics unit.
There are 150 children in three BRESMA houses, but Chad McMutrie said his sisters were focused on bringing over the youngest.
Allegheny County spokeswoman Megan Dardanell said county personnel have a contingency plan so orphans have temporary placement in safe homes.
The application of the "humanitarian parole" policy by DHS came after the United States last week granted temporary protected status to Haitian nationals in the United States as of Jan. 12, allowing them to stay in the U.S. for the next 18 months.
U.S. authorities are readying for a potential influx of Haitians seeking to escape their earthquake-wracked nation, even though the policy for migrants remains the same: with few exceptions, they will go back.
So far, fears of a mass migration have yet to materialize. However, conditions in Haiti become more dire each day and U.S. officials don't want to be caught off guard.
Between 250 and 400 immigration detainees are being moved from South Florida's main detention centre to clear space for any Haitians who manage to reach U.S. shores, according to the Homeland Security Department. The Navy base at Guantanamo Bay could house migrants temporarily - far from suspected terrorists also being held there - and the Catholic church is also working on a plan to accept Haitian orphans.
The mass migration plan, known as "Operation Vigilant Sentry," was put in place in 2003 because of previous experiences with Caribbean migrations, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, spokesman for the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast that would manage any Haitian influx.
"There is no new incentive for anyone to try to enter the United States illegally by sea," O'Neil said. "The goal is to interdict them at sea and repatriate them."