MONTREAL - Weary from sleepless nights and bundled in blankets for protection from the crisp Montreal air, the first group of Canadians caught in Haiti's earthquake arrived home early Friday morning.
About 150 weary evacuees were flown to Canada on two military aircraft, one of which carried Canadian soldiers into the disaster zone Thursday.
The first plane to arrive at Montreal's Trudeau airport carried about 100 people, 60 of them children. A second plane landed a short time later.
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. They were given bottled water as they arrived and 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.
However, they had to wait for their reunions after the plane landed because the evacuees were packed aboard buses at the airport and taken to a nearby hotel.
Despite their ordeal, several of those getting off the buses at the hotel managed exhausted smiles as they waved to family members who were kept a short distance away.
"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.
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."
The evacuees were met by federal minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent, Liberal MP Denis Coderre, Tory MP Stephen Blainey, Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis and Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James.
The evacuees were selected by staff at the Canadian embassy in Haiti, 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 international Red Cross has estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake. Four Canadians have been found dead and others are missing.
Several countries are rushing to the Caribbean nation'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.