A public health nurse from Madison was among the first wave of Americans evacuated late Thursday night from Haiti following Tuesday's devastating earthquake.
Jennifer Weitzel-Blahnik and about 100 other U.S. citizens were flown to safety by a military transport plane to McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in New Jersey. She and five others from the charity she co-founded, Health Ministries for Haiti, arrived by commercial flight just before noon Friday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Weitzel-Blahnik, who works for the Madison and Dane County Public Health Department, had been in Haiti since Jan. 3 on a medical mission, working at a clinic in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which got the brunt of the quake.
Speaking by cell phone as she made her way to Madison from Chicago, Weitzel-Blahnik said she and the other medical professionals began treating victims right after the disaster as people with broken bones and other injuries began showing up at the doorstep of the clinic's director.
"We did what we could right there in his front yard," Weitzel-Blahnik said.
She said the clinic, which withstood the shaking, had pain medication, antibiotics and wound-care supplies but no other way to treat the hundred or so patients who came for help.
"So many of the people will require surgical care," Weitzel-Blahnik said. "I don't know what will happen to them."
On Thursday, she and the other Americans were instructed to go to the American Embassy, where they were urged to evacuate. When they arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport, Weitzel-Blahnik said she was thrilled to see relief supplies and soldiers pouring in.
She said she never felt in danger except during the persistent aftershocks that sparked screams and crying from the terrified population. She said singing would break out as victims gathered to calm themselves.
"We didn't witness anything that made us feel unsafe. It wasn't as though everyone was panicking. They were just very frightened and distraught."
The 38-year-old said she has mixed feelings about being back in Wisconsin. "My main concern is, as much as we were wanting to be home and with our own families, it was very difficult to leave .... our Haitian friends," she said. "Our nightmare is over, but theirs is still very much alive."
The U.S. State Department estimates about 45,000 Americans are currently in Haiti.