SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – We are sitting in a waiting area at an airport outside of Santo Domingo, just a short flight away from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Close, but yet so far.
A team of medics from a relief group has just returned here after being refused permission to land in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian airport is so overwhelmed that help is even finding it difficult to arrive.
Haiti is desperately poor and staggeringly underdeveloped, and is now struggling with a calamity of still unknown depth and devastation. Haiti also, of course, is on a mountainous island (Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic). It's hard to imagine a worse logistical scenario.
|SLIDESHOW: Earthquake rocks Haiti|
Some members of our NBC News team have been here at the airport for more than six and a half hours, waiting. About a dozen small aircraft sit on a postage stamp of an airfield surrounded by lush rolling hills. The sun is bright. It's a beautiful day, but of course it's not really.
We hope to get to Haiti soon. Nightfall will probably make landing impossible. That's five hours or so away.
I've seen some of the horrifying images being broadcast out of Haiti. I've heard colleagues describe the worst disaster they've ever seen. I hope the emotion of the moment has pushed the hyperbole. But I think what's more likely is that words and pictures won't be able to convey the true horror of what's happened.
Seen too many earthquake aftermaths
I hate earthquakes. There's absolutely no warning. Over the years I've covered more than my fair share and the human disasters that followed all over the world. In a remote part of the Philippines back in the late 1980s, I will never forget the image of a completely pancaked high rise resort hotel. I've seen distant regions of India that it took a day to drive to devastated – not just once, but twice. And small towns in Turkey flattened, also twice.
Closer to home, I lived in Los Angeles for several years and reported on and lived through a few quakes along the way. One hit in the early morning hours while I was at home on the eighth floor of a high rise. The building moaned and swayed. Afterwards, thin cracks appeared between the walls and ceiling. All was well, but home never was the same again. And then there was the San Francisco freeway that collapsed when the quake struck during the 1989 baseball world series. That was a huge story as well.
But Haiti's suffering seems far worse than any of that. It's a place where buildings weren't constructed to any modern-day standard. A place battered by hurricanes, political instability and the daily onslaught of grinding poverty and need. Even the presidential palace, where you would expect some investment was made, collapsed. Reports are that the American Embassy is still standing, which is evidence of what a little modern construction can go through and withstand.
Back at the airport, we've just heard there's a "ground stop" at the Port-au-Prince airport. There are no planes landing or taking off until the skies clear. Now we are hearing the "stop" message applies only to planes leaving from the U.S. Now a few passengers are walking out to board.
Perhaps we'll be next. Next to head into a situation a colleague described as "biblical," full of unimaginable suffering and grief.