Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The U.S. military says it has resumed the airlifts that brought hundreds of Haitian earthquake victims to hospitals in the United States, ending a four-day suspension.
U.S. Army Col. Gregory Kane says that a medical evacuation flight left Haiti for the United States Sunday night, though he gave no details.
The White House said earlier that a suspension imposed on Wednesday was being lifted because it has been assured that there is space for the patients at U.S. and foreign hospitals.
The White House said military planes were on track to resume ferrying critically injured patients by early Monday, five days after the flights were halted. Since then, at least a handful of patients have arrived from Haiti on civilian aircraft, which aid groups say can be expensive.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement late Sunday that the White House received assurances that additional medical capacity exists in the U.S. and among its international partners for the patients.
"We determined that we can resume these critical flights," Vietor said. "Patients are being identified for transfer, doctors are making sure that it is safe for them to fly, and we are preparing specific in-flight pediatric care aboard the aircraft where needed."
Exactly what led to the suspension on Wednesday of medical evacuation flights was unclear, though military officials have said some states refused to take patients. Officials in Florida, one of the main destinations for military flights leaving Haiti, say no patients were ever turned away. However, the suspension took effect after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist sent a letter Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the state's hospitals were reaching a saturation point.
The letter also asked for federal help paying for patient expenses - a request Crist on Sunday said could have been misinterpreted. He also said federal officials have indicated he would receive help covering the costs, totaling more than $7 million.
Other flights have continued to carry U.S. citizens and other mostly non-injured passengers. Military planes carrying 700 U.S. citizens, legal residents and other foreign nationals landed in central Florida over the weekend, and three of those people required medical care at hospitals, state officials said. However, Florida had not received any critical patients needing urgent care since the halt, said Sterling Ivey, the governor's spokesman.
"We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and are happy to continue to do so," Crist told ABC News' "Good Morning America" on Sunday.
Col. Rick Kaiser said Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to build a 250-bed tent hospital in Haiti to relieve pressure on locations where earthquake victims are being treated under tarpaulins.
Several hospitals in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were damaged or destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said about 435 earthquake victims had been evacuated before the suspension.
Individual hospitals were still able to arrange private medical flights - such as one Sunday that brought three critically ill children to hospitals in Philadelphia.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said the trio arrived Sunday afternoon. One is a 5-year-old girl with tetanus, the second, a 14-month-old boy with pneumonia. The third, a baby suffering from severe burns from sun exposure after the quake, was transferred to another area hospital.
Doctors have said the makeshift facilities in Haiti aren't equipped to treat such critical conditions and warn that patients in similar condition could die if they aren't treated in U.S. hospitals.