Tuesday Jan 19 2010
UPDATE: Billionaire Ted Turner aids Auburn family’s Haitian rescue effort
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
7-year-old Claire orphan trapped in earthquake-stricken nation; Ted Turner’s private jet helps whisk her to U.S. and safety
With a lot of determination – and some help from billionaire Ted Turner – Auburn’s Scott and Debbie Bryditzki were about to pull off a miracle today in Haiti. The Lake of the Pines couple flew Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale to try to rescue a little Haitian girl they had completed adopting before the Jan. 12 earthquake. Hours later, they had picked up the girl in Haiti and were flying back to the U.S. this morning. Debbie Bryditzki said before her departure that she was in the process of getting a passport and visa in Haiti for Marie Guerline Clerge, a 7-year-old she first met in a Haitian orphanage three years ago. But the earthquake turned what had been a slow process nearing completion and requiring patience into a desperate mission to save the girl they call Claire from the dangers of life in a disaster area. With the Department of Immigration in rubble, regular channels to get Claire out had been blocked so the Bryditzkis began a push they dubbed “Operation Rescue Claire” to convince U.S. and Haitian authorities to help. The Bryditzkis’ plight had gained the ear of Ted Turner, the former cable-TV mogul who has made his private jet available to the couple to fly into Port-au-Prince at the earliest opportunity to bring Claire back to the U.S. Jim Wesley, a relative and Auburn Journal advertising account representative, had said Tuesday that the rescue flight could come as early as Wednesday. Claire and her new family could be back in California by Thursday morning, he said. Deteriorating conditions in the wake of Haiti are especially harsh for Haiti’s orphan population – which the United Nations Children’s Fund estimates numbered 380,000 before the quake. Tens of thousands more have been orphaned by the 7.0 quake, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. One of the world’s poorest countries, Haiti has struggled through deadly tropical storms and hurricanes in 2004, 2005 and 2008, plus massive floods almost every other year since 2000. It has had more children abandoned amid the Caribbean nation’s long-running political strife, which has led thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. without their children. In other instances, parents were simply too poor to care for them, AP reported. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday a humanitarian parole policy that allows orphaned Haitian children into the U.S. temporarily on a case-by-case basis, so they can receive the care they need. Flights out of Haiti with orphans were already starting to take place Tuesday. More than 50 children, most of whom already have adoptive families waiting for them arrived in Pittsburgh, Pa., AP reported. After receiving initial medical treatment, they were taken to a “comfort center” with food, drink and toys, where they will stay until they are placed with foster families. For one Auburn-area family the Haitian quake relief effort has turned into a personal quest to rescue their adopted daughter. “We have heard from a contact in Haiti that the kids are running out of water and food is almost gone,” Debbie Bryditzki wrote in a blog entry. The Bryditzkis were scheduled for an interview with the Journal Tuesday but were suddenly called to Florida for a rescue flight on Turner’s jet. Danielle Bryditzki, the couple's daughter, e-mailed word today that here parents and Claire were on a return flight. The Associated Press contributed to this story.