HALIFAX, N.S. – Crew members of HMCS Halifax ran into the warm and waiting arms of their loved ones Tuesday after returning from a six-week deployment to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Back in the frigate’s namesake port, they reflected with pride on their sense of achievement, but also on the unfinished work left behind in the impoverished island nation.
“There’s going to be years’ of work left there,” Lt. Andrew Tunstall said shortly after disembarking the frigate on a cold, grey morning.
“The smiles on their faces, and the Canadian flags that they had found and raised … I walked away knowing that we had accomplished something.”
The military sent two of its Halifax-based ships to Haiti after the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 – Halifax and the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan. The navy says it’s not yet known when Athabaskan will return.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake levelled much of the country, including the capital city of Port au Prince, killing more than 200,000 people.
The primary task of the 225 crew members aboard Halifax involved humanitarian relief to the residents of Jacmel, a port city that also suffered widespread damage.
The crew cleared rubble-clogged streets and built latrines and showers to ensure Haitians living in makeshift camps had clean water.
“When we left Jacmel, the city was in much better shape than when we first arrived,” said Cmdr. Josee Kurtz, flanked by her daughter and members of Halifax’s crew.
“I’m hoping that by the smiles on their (Haitians) faces that we saw when we were there we did make a difference.”
Hundreds of family and friends gathered at the navy dockyard in downtown Halifax to welcome the crew back home.
Small children, their cheeks red and wind-whipped, clutched tiny paper Canadian flags and hollered “There’s daddy!” as the vessel pulled slowly into port.
Standing alongside her two sons, Lisa Moss held a large, yellow sign that read “Welcome home, Daddy” high above her head as the vessel drew near with her husband, master seaman Glenn Moss, aboard.
“I can’t feel anything but proud and honoured to call him my husband,” said Moss, as her sons, aged seven and 13, looked on.
“The work he’s doing with the navy and in this particular deployment to help others in need has been just amazing.”
Petty officer (second class) Wayne Burke said he believes the Canadian effort won’t go unnoticed in Haiti.
“We don’t worry about the things that they do down there,” Burke said as he held his four-year-old daughter.”Life was hard for them before this ever happened to them … it’s nice to be part of helping them out.”