A second group of Canadians caught in Haiti's earthquake arrive from Port-au-Prince to an airport hotel in Montreal early this morning. Photo by The Canadian Press
They arrived exhausted, some with streaks of dried blood still caked upon their faces, others wrapped in blankets doled out by rescue workers, but they were home.
The first group of Canadians evacuated from the chaos wrought by the Haitian earthquake landed in Montreal early this morning.
"Thank you," said one of the first men on the ground. "Thank you for bringing us home."
Nearly 100 weary people, 60 of them children, were flown home on the same military aircraft that carried Canadian soldiers into the Haitian disaster zone Thursday.
A second plane carrying 50 more evacuees landed soon after.
Smiles mingled with tears as earthquake survivors shook hands with politicians waiting to receive them.
Many of the evacuees were wrapped in white Red Cross blankets, others in grey blankets from the military as they trudged through an airport lounge. Bottled water was doled out to the travellers as they arrived and were herded from one area to another by Red Cross personnel.
One older woman walked through with obvious cuts on her face and what looked like streaks of dried blood. Several others were pushed through the airport terminal in wheelchairs.
Some family members had waited for hours for their loved ones to arrive, but reunions with loved ones had to wait. The evacuees were packed aboard buses at the airport and taken to a nearby hotel to meet with their relatives.
Several travellers managed to crack a tired smile and wave as they got off the buses.
"I haven't slept in three days," one of the quake survivors said later. "It was hell."
Another said that while he was happy to be back in Canada, he won't wait long to return to Haiti.
"They need help," he said, referring to the survivors of the massive earthquake that has killed thousands.
John Kottelenberg, a humanitarian aid worker from Grimsby, Ont., said he'll set about raising money to send to Haiti when he gets home.
Kottelenberg, who praised Canadian embassy staff for their relief efforts, was playing basketball with a group of high schoolers when the quake struck.
"It sounded like a train was coming down the track and we all rushed to one side of the court," he said. "The whole building collapsed in front of us and basically demolished the whole building. Thankfully no one was inside."
People in other nearby buildings weren't so lucky, he added. Now people are in shock and sleeping in the streets.
"Everybody's on the streets," he said. "They don't want to be in the buildings."
Nancy Savage waited for hours before being reunited with her husband, Martin Turgeon, a Quebec businessman who was in a Port-au-Prince hotel when the quake hit and the roof came crashing down.
"He's extremely tired, but he looks good," an elated Savage said. "He really, really wants to go home."
Turgeon said he was happy to be home and "feeling pretty lucky."
The businessman pitched in with rescue workers after the earthquake, saying, "When you're in a situation like that, you do things you didn't think you could."
He had high praise for Haitian rescue workers who scrambled to pull people from the rubble, citing one woman who emerged without a scratch after being trapped for 24 hours.
Turgeon said the impact of the last few days will probably hit him when he's had time to unwind.
"I'm going to realize everything that happened," he said, adding that he lost all of his ID papers.
Dany Laferriere, an award-winning novelist who was born in Haiti but immigrated to Quebec, was in a hotel restaurant when he heard "an extraordinary noise."
He said people ran into the streets to escape the collapsing buildings and he saw incredible acts of heroism, such as when a woman snatched a baby from a fifth floor window ledge and carried it to safety.
"So many people saved people they didn't know," he said. "It was a time of courage in Haiti."
The evacuees were selected by staff at the Canadian embassy, which remains functional despite sustaining damage in this week's earthquake.
Priority in the repatriation effort was being given to injured people, women and children.
The Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince has turned itself into a base camp for Canadians in need. Tents have been set up outside the building which was evacuated as a result of the quake.
Canadian officials still have no clear idea about the extent of the damage. Some estimates suggest 50,000 people may have died in the Haitian quake and up to three million - a third of the country's population - may need emergency aid.
Thousands of buildings have been flattened, including the parliament, hospitals, a prison and the UN headquarters.
So far, four Canadians have been confirmed dead - an Ontario nurse, a Nova Scotia RCMP officer and a couple from Montreal are confirmed to be among the untold numbers of dead.
Several countries are rushing to the Caribbean country's assistance.
Canada already has a 20-member advance team from the military's Disaster Assistance Response Team in Haiti.
The advance team is to conduct assessments prior to deployment of the DART's full contingent and a broader distribution of resources.
Two Canadian warships left Halifax Thursday loaded with relief supplies and were expected to arrive early next week.