Aboard the USS Bataan, A Desperate Daily Struggle To Help Injured Haitians

Frustrations came near a boiling point in Haiti this weekend, as Gov. Charlie Crist and President Obama bickered over who was to blame for a suspension of flights bringing injured Haitians to Florida hospitals.

Crist says the feds stopped the planes after he asked for help in paying for treatment. Obama says the flights have stalled because of logistical problems. Desperate Haitians were delighted when the White House announced Sunday the flights would be resumed

But for the hundreds of Navy personnel on vessels around the devastated coast, this weekend's argument seemed like a distant distraction.

It's hard to focus on political bickering when you're working 12-hour shifts to try to help survivors.

For a firsthand report on the relief efforts, Riptide caught up with Jay Maple, a 20-year-old machinist's mate onboard the USS Bataan. The Miami native spoke to us on Friday by phone from the amphibious assault vessel. "We're just focused on trying to bring as much aid to as many people as possible, frankly," Maple says. "We have working parties going out constantly, breaking down buildings, bringing relief packages, treating patients. It's non-stop work."

Maple, a Richmond Heights native who graduated from Miami Killian High School in 2007, got the call with the rest of the Bataan crew the morning after the 7.0 quake devastated Port au Prince. The boat steamed south and arrived outside Haiti the next day, on January 13. The vessel has a fleet medical team onboard, and doctors quickly built a triage station and a long-term hospital onboard.

For the last two weeks, teams of sailors have ferried thousands of pallets of MREs, water and medical supplies ashore. Emergency teams have dug through the capital's crumbled buildings, pulling out survivors and bringing the most seriously wounded back onboard for treatment.

Through Friday, the Bataan had 74 severely wounded survivors aboard, Maple says.

"None of us has ever seen anything remotely like this," Maple says.

Regardless of who's to blame for the lack of flights bringing survivors back to Florida hospitals -- a muck-up that's likely to cost hundreds of lives, one doctor tells the Herald -- the Bataan will keep treating as many victims as it can, Maple says.

"It's pretty bad out there, so we're happy to help whoever we can," he says.

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