HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, FL -- Military spouse Zakiyya Brodie got more than she bargained for Wednesday when she went to work out at the Homestead Air Reserve Base gym. The base’s fitness facility was full of evacuees from Haiti seeking refuge after last week’s devastating earthquake.
The evacuees were going through processing at the fitness center as part of Operation Unified Response, the U.S. military's Haitian relief effort. Incoming evacuees are given basic necessities at the center after they are processed through customs and immigration.
“One of the guys who works here is a friend of mine,” Brodie told military reporters. “He introduced me to Jesika Davis, and when I said I wanted to help, she asked if I could start today!”
Davis is the American Red Cross South Dade Branch manager. The Red Cross is providing support for the evacuees alongside military medical personnel, employees from the Florida Department of Children and Family Services, and representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
On Wednesday, the base’s fitness center received nearly 600 evacuees before 8 a.m. Some 1,500 people from Haiti have arrived at the base since the beginning of the week.
“We get about 20-30 minutes’ notice that another plane is going to land,” said Maj. Larry Holbrook, 482nd Services Squadron commander and site commander for evacuation processing. “The planes typically carry between 30 and 70 people who we need to process and help.”
The evacuees are repatriated American citizens and people with foreign passports seeking refuge from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Homestead is strategically located in Florida for the mission, military officials said.
The American Red Cross is providing snacks, water, diapers and baby formula, Davis said. Between six and 12 volunteers plus two paid Red Cross staff members are at the center 24 hours a day.
Military medical personnel also are providing first aid for evacuees.
“We're here to provide basic care and to determine if anyone coming in needs to be transported to a medical facility,” Staff Sgt. Orlando Menendez, 482nd Medical Squadron medical technician, told military reporters.
Once the evacuees have cleared customs, the Florida Department of Children and Family Services is arranging transportation to Miami International Airport, where they can be picked up by family members or leave for another destination.
Holbrook said his staff also will be ready in the event that refugees are sent to Homestead Air Reserve Base.