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Canadian Forces head to port town of Jacmel

Canadian Embassy faces crowds desperate to get out of Haiti

Last Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010 | 10:04 PM ET

A Canadian soldier carries supplies as troops arrive at a medical centre in Port-au-Prince. Canada's DART forces will focus efforts on the port town of Jacmel.A Canadian soldier carries supplies as troops arrive at a medical centre in Port-au-Prince. Canada's DART forces will focus efforts on the port town of Jacmel. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)Canada's disaster response team in Haiti will focus its aid efforts for the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country on the port town of Jacmel, Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche says.

Laroche, speaking from Port-au-Prince alongside Canada's ambassador to Haiti, Gilles Rivard, said the Disaster Assistance Response Team has been asked by the Haitian government to focus on the town that lies about 30 kilometres southwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Laroche said he travelled with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to see the damage in the town of 40,000 — a popular tourist destination — and saw that the hospital was half destroyed by the quake. The road into Jacmel has been cut off from the rest of the country since last Tuesday's quake, making delivery of aid difficult.

Canadian ships HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax, loaded with relief supplies, were just north of Haiti early Monday. Laroche said that while Athabaskan will move to west of Port-au-Prince, Halifax is bound for Jacmel.

Jacmel lies about 30 kilometres southwest of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.Jacmel lies about 30 kilometres southwest of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. (CBC)

Logistical issues at Jacmel port

Defence Minister Peter MacKay had earlier said the region faces other logistical challenges. The airport, little more than a runway, is capable of landing a Hercules aircraft but not the larger CC-177 transports, he said.

The town's port, while not unusable, is still not equipped to handle a ship the size of the two Canadian vessels arriving Monday, meaning supplies and personnel would have to be ferried from the ships to the port, he said.

Jacmel is also the hometown of the father of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean.

However Dan Dugas, a spokesman for MacKay, said the governor general had no hand in the decision, which was made based "on the recommendation of the brigadier general on the ground."

As Canadian forces arrive in Haiti to provide more aid, Rivard said the process to get Canadians and their families out of the country has been complicated by crowds forming outside the embassy.

On Saturday, Immigration Canada said it will expedite immigration applications from Haitians with family in this country, while Haitians in Canada temporarily will also be allowed to extend their stay.

But Rivard said erroneous Haitian media reports circulated that said any Haitian citizen could obtain a visa to Canada by showing up at the embassy. That led to aggressive crowds forming outside the embassy on Sunday, and has slowed the process of determining immigration claims.

"I would say 90 per cent of the people that are here are here based on that rumour and not because they have a status of permanent resident or are close to getting that status of permanent resident," he said.

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