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Bike Man

By: Melissa Fears

Cars honk, people stop and wave, others are just plain fascinated by this man. A blue and white striped polo hugs his arms as he fixes his plaid hat that is cocked to the side. Smiling back, he goes back to his business; spinning a basketball, twirling batons and juggling tennis balls all while riding his bike backwards and listening to gospel music. The man behind it all – Lionel Hills.

Growing up, Hills learned along with his friends how to ride a bike just like any other kid, except Hills had a special knack for coordination and balance. It just came easy to him he says. He began riding backwards and never looked back. Bike riding didn’t top the priority list as he grew up however, and it soon became a thing of the past.

It is 2005, the year fate stepped in. Wandering into a small pawn shop looking for a trumpet, Hills and his wife never knew that this little store off of Keystone Avenue on the northeast side of Indianapolis would hold just the key to finding his dream.

 “Then I just saw it…. and thought ‘Wow!’”

A perfectly distressed white and mint green Schwinn bike sat there waiting to be taken home.  “I asked the lady is this really $19.99?” he says. “I asked my wife if I should get it, and I’ve had it ever since.”

“It is crazy,” Stephanie Camp-Hills, his wife, says. “A $20 investment brought all this,” she laughs. 

“I play the keyboard and I know it just has to have a certain feel to it, so that’s why I haven’t tried to buy a new bike for him,” she says.

“I have thought about getting a new bike, but it just wouldn’t be the same,” Hills says. “I can control this one and its light. I can carry it with one arm. It does what I want it to do, not the other way around,” he jokes.

“I know it’s the bike for me.”

His wife says that some of the people he knows just don’t understand how “old-school” he is, and he just loves the old-time bikes.  Fans of his from his dedicated Facebook page, have offered to chip in and buy a new bike. Hills just laughs it off.

The Facebook fan page came out of nowhere to him. One day a friend told his wife about it and he was in awe.

With over 4,300 fans and counting, the page was created by Roncalli High School student Ashlynn Bruner. The page has allowed fans from across the state to comment on their thoughts and give tips to others on when to find him.

“I started the page because I drive down Emerson daily and he always makes my day better, and he deserves to be noticed,” Brunner says. “I am trying to get him in the Guinness World Records for something.”

Once the Facebook fan page started up, and hundreds of people were adding themselves as a fan, Bruner didn’t know what to think.

“I was extremely surprised I got that many fans,” she exclaims. “I didn’t expect even 500 but there were 500 in the first 20 minutes.”

The page has been a hit with nearly everyone involved. It has turned into a page where fans of his can upload and share videos and pictures that they have taken. They can also leave comments on what they think and tip on when to best find Hills riding.

Waiting until all the cars have come and gone is when Hills ventures out to his familiar spot on the corner of the Thompson and Emerson intersection on the Southeast side of Indianapolis. He waits until after his nine-to-five job at WellPoint and when the Beech Grove Pet Hospital closes for the night.

On the weekends he has ridden straight through for nearly five hours. “I just go to church and head out there,” Hills says. “Sometimes I don’t even eat I am so ready to get out there.”

Sitting on his silver slip-covered couch at his southeast-side home, he recalls all the fun he has had over the past few years and cannot stress enough how happy he was that he finally started riding again. 

Flashing his gummy smile, he makes no qualms to mention the fact he has no top teeth. He keeps on smiling. After moving here from Arizona and being raised in Louisiana, Hills has learned to make the best of life.

“My wife decided she wanted a change and wanted to move here, so I said yes dear,” he says. After living on the northwest side of town for awhile, he prefers the quieter atmosphere of the southeast side better now.

Upon leaving the nest, the couple’s four children, three girls and one son, have scattered all across the country living in several different states. Their youngest daughter still lives nearby while attending Ball State University.  Hill’s quirky riding hasn’t seemed to rub off on any of his family just yet. None has gotten the courage or passion to try doing what he does. “I would never,” his wife exclaims. “That is his thing. The kids never wanted to try riding backwards either.”

People ask him every week he says why he does what he does. “I can’t do what I do riding forwards or the regular way,” he says. “The handlebars would poke me in the side. I can turn how I wanna turn now.”

He is glad when people stop. He relishes in the company and support he gets from making people smile. Hills says some people tell him he makes the long stoplights seem not as long and he loves to make people’s days. People tell them frequently that they almost run into the cars in front of them when they stop and stare. “I’ve almost run into someone looking at him myself,” his wife laughs.

“You ever know what a person is going through, so I love to make someone smile,” Hills says. “I appreciate all the comments people have made. I had no idea, but I’m happy about it.”

People have stopped and asked if her husband was homeless, his wife mentions. “They thought he was homeless person trying to make money,” she says. “It’s so funny to me. Our daughter overheard people talking nearby where he used to ride. Where a lady thought he was homeless and was saying she felt sorry for him, my daughter said that’s my my dad, he makes plenty of money,” she continues.

“There’s a couple of smarty pants that tell him to get a job; He has a job- a good one!” she laughs.

“I am not out there to get tips, but if they enjoy me enough to tip me, I may accept it,” Hills says with a laugh.  “I just do what I do.”

Parades and shows may be in the cards one day, but not just yet. Sadly he says, when he has been asked in the past, he always had to work.

“I really like to show off for the kids,” he says.

Hills recalls with great joy an out-town older couple who brought their grandkids to come see him perform after they had seen Hills once while they were visiting in the past. The couple sat in the back of their van across the street enjoying their freshly bought pizza as the children ate and watched in awe.

Showing off comes naturally to him. He loves to add new things to his repertoire as he says. From juggling tennis balls, twirling batons and spinning basketballs, he aces them every time. He avoids spinning basketballs on busy days in case he does mess up as it can go into traffic.

Dedicated and motivated, he can be seen in his familiar triangular corner even in the chilliest of days. With snow hanging off his black hooded jacket, he is out there riding to his heart’s desire.

“This winter was challenging,” his wife says. “I couldn’t believe he was out there in 21 degree weather all bundled up.”

“I was still out there riding because I enjoy it so much,” Hills says. “When I’m riding it’s like a whole other world, what I see around me. I listen to the beat of my music. I’m happy, it relieves stress or whatever. It just disappears.”

His music of choice is listening to upbeat and contemporary gospel. Kirk Franklin is a favorite of his. Most people question why gospel. He explains that a medium tempo is better while he is riding as it helps him keep a beat and do his tricks. 

Pedaling around with his oversized headphones is a key part in him riding he says. “I can’t ride without them,” he states matter-of-factly. “It’s not the same without music. It’s like a random trick; it’s not the same excitement. The music makes me happy, and I like to dance with the music.”

The headphones and Hills are so in tune sometimes that he forgets about the rest of the world his wife says. “Sometimes I pull into the parking lot across the way by the Kmart and just watch him,” she recalls. “He doesn’t even know I am there. Sometime he is so into what he is doing; he doesn’t see or hear me.”

“I swear he sees everyone but me,” she laughs. “I will be blowing my horn and I just say ‘Oh heck.’”

 “She’ll ask me did you hear me blowing my horn and I’ll say no dear sorry I had my headphones on,” Hills laughs.  “She is great; she always supports my riding. She just lets me ride.”

His riding is something he wants to do as long as he can. Someone told him once that his joy was contagious. Not everyone is a fan however. A car once threw a cup of water at him he remembers. “Stuff happens, some people yell at him to get a job,” his wife says. “He has a job I always say.”

For now, he just wants to keep doing what he loves and make people smile while he is doing it. “I always try to wave so people won’t be disappointed,” he says flashing his signature grin.

After catching more than 4,000 people’s attention, he is on the right track to mediocre stardom, which is just fine with him.

“I would like to be on the local news;” he says. “Something low-key for now until I come up with something more grand.”

“Something is gonna come up from it; I just don’t know what or when,” Hills says.


Not a Challenge, Just What Needs to be Done

His spacious office lined with sports memorabilia and college degrees hanging delicately on the painted drywall, Dr. Tim Smith, Assistant Director at R.I.S.E. Learning Center, eagerly speaks of all the upcoming changes.

R.I.S.E Learning Center, part of Perry Township, will become its own entity starting in the school year of 2011-2012. Budget cuts are looming and the economy seems to not be getting back on its feet quite soon enough. Tension mounts as most of the final questions will not be answered until May.

Smith, knowing the state’s financial education problems, believes that the cuts will not be as harsh as some believe and stresses that he wants to hold onto as many current staff as possible and does not see what he couldn’t. “We just might be replacing some of the staff that is leaving due to other reasons,” he says.

            Armed with multiple degrees and plenty of experience, he knows better than anyone how important it is to have uniformity in his staff. There is no one key player he says.

He believes that with his teaching experience as well as with his administrative duties at three special needs schools, he has helped motivate his employees and has improved the school over the past year. He joined R.I.S.E. a year and a month ago. “Boost of encouragement,” he says. “I enhance what they are already capable of doing and help bring the whole staff together.”

It is all part of his ongoing professional development he believes and is ecstatic after receiving his doctorate in educational leadership from Indiana State University this past July. He promised his mentor, Dr. William Duke, who was a principal of Carmel High School where Smith worked, that he would finish the degree after nearly five years of pursuing it. Duke received the letter sadly on his death bed from throat cancer alongside his dedicated wife Smith says.

“Everything is a challenge, but that’s a part of what we do, so nothing worries me when I come home,” Smith says. “It’s all part of the fun. My personality is laid back, I don’t have a lot of stress, and I love kids, so that’s why I chose education. Sometimes we all have to chip in for the dirty grunt work, not necessarily challenging. It’s just what we do.”

The biggest challenge he faces he says is trying to satisfy all the parents who believe they have certain rights or needs that sometimes the school can or is willing to provide.

“When a kid becomes violent or aggressive, it is an opportunity to be prepared through training, workshops, so we know how to handle the situation correctly,” Smith says. “That’s what we are here for is to help the kids and ourselves.”

Tina Johnson, a moderate to severe disabilities primary teacher at R.I.S.E., says that it is vitally important to be collaborative in working with everyone, especially the people directly involved with her students, such as therapists and assistants.

“In every school it’s like a combined effort; I have a mentor teacher,” she says. “I try to go to her to get new ideas. Our speech teacher is also really helpful. A lot of issues can come out because they can’t talk so we all have to work together.”

Doing research online is one tool Johnson has learned fast. “I have found that visuals are best for kids with autism,” she says. “Since most of my class is nonverbal, I set up object schedules, which are boards with objects on them and they map out the student’s day. Once an activity is done, they place the object in a basket. It helps them know when the day is close to being done.”

She also stresses how important it is to have her staff on the same page as her. Strict guidelines and daily schedules are neatly organized in a clear bin marked on the colorful wall by the front classroom door. Time is everything.

Bubbly, alert and focused, Johnson scurries out into the hallway to pick up her last student, who was finishing her speech therapy. The students are leaving early due to a winter storm and gears up to make sure everything was done for the day.

“Attention. The Beech Grove bus is here. Any students left in the building need to be sent to the front office at this time,” the intercom overhead calls out. Grabbing the little girl’s little hand into hers, she helps her put on her pink fluffy jacket and walks her to the front.

Johnson always knew she wanted this world, even in her undergraduate pursuit. Transferring to Indiana University Bloomington after just a semester at Ball State, she began her classes for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. It resulted in her going on to get her master’s degree at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

“I don’t think that school can help you become a good teacher; it’s mostly experience,” Johnson says. “Student teaching really opened up my eyes.”

Knowing how vital it is for her and her staff to be here for her students, who are the most severe cases out of four townships, she knows she has to be extremely patient and compassionate. “You really really just have to love your kids,” she says. “One minute they may vomit on you and you just have to get over it, because you have to get back to helping them two minutes later.”

“They may do the most disgusting or gross things, but… I like working with them and really getting to know them.” To some it is more than just a teacher-student relationship; it is a bond. The students sometimes have the same teacher for multiple years and they spend every day learning and growing with the teacher and their assistants.

“There’s a lot of trust that goes into the staff with these kids,” Johnson says. “Parents send their kids off and they want to know what they are doing. They trust us.” Goals, accomplishments and paperwork are sent home in plastic three-ring binders in colorful miniature cartoon backpacks on the bus or in the minivan everyday for the guardians and parents to review.

“Patience can wear thin for sure; things can get boring like hearing the same song every morning or doing the same activities, but it’s good for the kids,” she says. There are plenty of physical challenges that pop up. Diapers, potty-training, eating restrictions and walking devices are just a few of all the challenges. “At least 50 percent of my day is spent in the bathroom with the kids it seems,” Johnson says. “Potty training is number one on the parent’s list and we try. There is still a chance at this age, once they get to high school, it is almost too late.”

Both students and parents tend to rely on the staff for support and help in gearing their special needs child into as much normalcy as possible. Speech therapists, occupational therapists and social workers can all help. Hearing that you may have saved someone’s life may be all the inspiration that is needed to stay at work.

Kid-friendly and visually eye-popping, the bright candy corn orange plastic chair in the shape of a hand, greets students as they enter in this safe haven. Working diligently at his desk in a small room filled with games, social work books and candy, R.I.S.E. LLC social worker Kyle Walke, LSW, prepares for the next task of the day, behavior mapping.

Behavior mapping is a valuable resource and tool for social workers in discovering and understanding where the child is coming from, their mindset. Walke explains that it is a board of four or five aspects of the child’s life that need addressed and then try to figure out what behaviors need modified or corrected. People involved in student’s life, such as the social worker, teacher, guardian and family are all present to give input. It helps give a background to help everyone involved better understand what is or isn’t stable in the child’s life and how to better address issues.

“Everything I do I have to collaborate with the teachers,” Walke says. “They are my best resource I have.”

“Students with disabilities are different. It’s not like scoring 100 percent on a math test. For one student we may have them practice not running into people in the hallway so they won’t do it at the grocery store and have someone get angry at them. We help them with social skills and issues,” he says.

It is important to know that patience is a virtue and is a must for any career in education, especially one in special needs. “It’s important to be patient, calm and empathetic,” Walke says. “Emotionally disabled kids are here because they have been kicked out of their schools because of bad behavior. You can’t let it get to you or you will get really burned out in a week or a day or an hour.”

Learning patience is one thing, how to deal with everyday situations is tougher. “We have different skill sets than counselors,” he says. “We advocate in a lot of different ways. We are trained early on how to handle and adjust to deal with wide variety of circumstances we will encounter.”

Knowing when to ask for help and when to work together seems to work for R.I.S.E. Learning Center and it will continue to thrive in the upcoming years as changes will be made. Collaborative efforts are the name of the game.

Wyclef Jean calls for evacuating Haiti capital

By SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 18, 6:29 pm ET

NEW YORK – Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean defended his charity on Monday in the wake of questions about its practices while calling on the international community to enable the evacuation of his homeland’s earthquake-ravaged capital.

“Port-au-Prince is a morgue,” Jean said at a Manhattan press conference, recounting how he collected the corpses of small children and adults from the festering streets on his recent trip. Tears streamed down his face as he looked into the camera, speaking to his countrymen.

Residents should be evacuated to tent cities outside Port-au-Prince to allow for aid to reach them and so cleanup can begin in earnest, Jean said, asking for help from around the world in building encampments.

“We need to migrate at least 2 million people,” Jean said, promising to draw on his status as one of Haiti’s favorite sons to aid in such an effort. “I give you my word, if I tell them to go, they will go. But they need somewhere to go to,” Jean said.

The musician made the plea for an evacuation at the behest of Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and President Rene Preval, said Hugh Locke, the president of The Wyclef Jean Foundation Inc.

The organization, also known as the Yele Haiti Foundation, has drawn fire in recent days as groups that vet charities raised doubts about its accounting practices and ability to function in a nation devastated by last week’s earthquake.

Jean gave an impassioned defense of the organization, which has received more than $2 million in donations in just a few days.

“My dad always told me, if you’re a man with a clear conscience, speak with a clear conscience and the world will know,” he said. “Have we made mistakes before? Yes. Did I ever use Yele money for personal benefit? Absolutely not.”

An Associated Press review of tax returns and independent audits provided by Jean’s foundation showed that it was closely intertwined with Jean’s businesses.

Among the mistakes by the young organization, Locke said, was the decision to buy $250,000 of airtime from Telemax S.A., a for-profit TV station in Haiti that is majority-owned by Jean and another foundation board member.

Locke said that Yele believed it was getting a good price for airtime in a nation where many are illiterate and rely on the TV for information. The decision would be handled differently now, he said.

The foundation plans to send donated supplies to Haiti on a plane provided by FedEx on Saturday. It is still deciding how donated funds will be spent, considering such options as mobile schools for refugee camps and security forces to escort supplies, Locke said.

Conan Scandal

By: Melissa Fears

The funny man has spoken and according to him he is “going to leave television altogether and work in a classier business with better people, like hard-core porn.” That statement has come after weeks of bickering and fighting between the network and two of its prized money-makers, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.

The drama began after the “Jay Leno Show” began to lose its luster, if there ever was one. According to network sources, the network’s pilot development last year was derailed with the disappearance of its 10 p.m. dramas to make room for “The Jay Leno Show,” which was canceled early last week. The network also spent millions on new sets and the launch of both “Tonight” and “Jay Leno” and then had to face ratings down spiraling both at 10 p.m. and 11:35 p.m., which led to revenue loss.

The comedians have had a field day creating jokes on the mini-crisis. Leno pokes fun at the situation saying, “”I left prime time the way I found it … a complete disaster.” Jimmy Kimmel joins the fun by saying, “Listen Jay, Conan and I have children,” he continued on, “all you have to take care of is cars. I mean, we have lives to lead here. You’ve got $800 million. For God’s sakes, leave our shows alone.”

Not too worry for the Conan fans, the flame-colored funny man will get the last laugh with an estimated $40 million payout and will be expected to be free to join another network, possibly right away and by early fall at the latest. The pact also includes sizable severance packages for O’Brien’s longtime executive producer Jeff Ross and the rest of the “Tonight” staff, some of it possibly coming out of O’Brien’s settlement paycheck. O’Brien is expected to tape his final “Tonight Show” on Friday. Jay Leno will return to the “Tonight” desk March 1 after the Winter Olympics.

Fans have been lining the Chicago streets this week to show their support for O’Brien. Similar rallies in L.A. and NYC are scheduled for later this week. The rally of mostly teens and young adults, some wearing orange or sporting red wigs and spray-painted hair, were organized through the Facebook social networking site.

The NBC network and the “Tonight Show” brands have arguably been ruined. The network, in particular, has been framed as clumsy at best and just plain vindictive at worst in its handling of the issue.


Pierre Garcon pleads for Haitian help as the Colts advance

By  Kyle Walke

Source: Pierre Garcon via Facebook

Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon was a virtual unknown four months ago.  Now, he’s catching touchdowns from four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning.  However within one week, Garcon’s extraordinary life has taken a major turn. On January 12th his family’s homeland of Haiti was devastated by a level 7.0 quake.  With an estimated hundreds of thousands dead, and countless more unaccounted for, Garcon’s focus has been drawn away from the playoffs and more on the safety of his relatives.

Garcon, who was born of Haitian descent, was raised in the United States, but still has family living in Haiti.  Typically upbeat with a glowing smile, Garcon seemed physically exhausted as he met the press with updates after the game.   Last Wednesday Garcon said, “I’ve heard from some family, got some good information, but were still looking for the rest of them.”  Contacting relatives has been extremely difficult due to power outages and mass displacement of people.

In a request Garcon posted this on his Twitter account, “We need the US military as soon as possible n haiti We need the four million Haitian that live out side of haiti to Act now, we need da world!”  A powerful plea from a man desperate for help, Garcon is offering autographed memorabilia for donations to the Haiti relief fund at his website:

Garcon rarely played his rookie season, but is having a standout year with 47 receptions and four touchdowns.  Coming into the playoffs the Colts were the number one seed, but they seemed to stumble to the finish line losing their last two games of the year.  In the biggest game of the Colt’s season they faced a stingy Baltimore Ravens team in the AFC Divisional game.  Up to the challenge Garcon made his presence felt with 5 catches and a potential game saving forced fumble after safety Ed Reed made an interception.

After the game Garcon celebrated the Indianapolis victory draped in the Haitian flag. Upon the national emblem in fine print reads: “L’Union Fait La Force.” ” In Union There is Strength.”  A motto fitting for both a team fighting to win it all and a country struggling to survive.

If you’d like to help, please visit Pierre’s website at


Haiti Relief Aid Slowly Reaching Victims

The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Precious water, food and early glimmers of hope began reaching parched and hungry earthquake survivors Saturday on the streets of this shattered city, where despair at times turned into a frenzy among the ruins.

“People are so desperate for food that they are going crazy,” said accountant Henry Ounche, in a crowd of hundreds who fought one another as U.S. military helicopters clattered overhead carrying aid.

When other Navy choppers dropped rations and Gatorade into a soccer stadium thronged with refugees, 200 youths began brawling, throwing stones, to get at the supplies.

Across the hilly, steamy city, where people choked on the stench of death, hope faded by the hour for finding many more victims alive in the rubble, four days after Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake.

Still, here and there, the murmur of buried victims spurred rescue crews on, even as aftershocks threatened to finish off crumbling buildings.

“No one’s alive in there,” a woman sobbed outside the wrecked Montana Hotel. But hope wouldn’t die. “We can hear a survivor,” search crew chief Alexander Luque of Namibia later reported. His men dug on. Elsewhere, an American team pulled a woman alive from a collapsed university building where she had been trapped for 97 hours. Another crew got water to three survivors whose shouts could be heard deep in the ruins of a multistory supermarket that pancaked on top of them.

Nobody knew how many were dead. Haiti’s government alone has already recovered 20,000 bodies not counting those recovered by independent agencies or relatives themselves, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press.

In a fresh estimate, the Pan American Health Organization said 50,000 to 100,000 people perished in the quake. Bellerive said 100,000 would “seem to be the minimum.” Truckloads of corpses were being trundled to mass graves.

A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman declared the quake the worst disaster the international organization has ever faced, since so much government and U.N. capacity in the country was demolished. In that way, Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva, it’s worse than the cataclysmic Asian tsunami of 2004: “Everything is damaged.”

Also Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince to pledge more American assistance and said the U.S. would be “as responsive as we need to be.” President Obama met with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and urged Americans to donate to Haiti relief efforts.

As the day wore on, search teams recovered the body of Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, the United Nations chief of mission in Haiti, and other top U.N. officials who were killed when their headquarters collapsed.

Despite many obstacles, the pace of aid delivery was picking up.

The Haitian government had established 14 distribution points for food and other supplies, and U.S. Army helicopters were reconnoitering for more. With eight city hospitals destroyed or damaged, aid groups opened five emergency health centers. Vital gear, such as water-purification units, was arriving from abroad.

Thousands lined up in the Cite Soleil slum as U.N. World Food Program workers distributed high-energy biscuits there for the first time. As the hot sun set, the crew was down to just a few dozen boxes left from six truckloads. Perhaps 10,000 people were still waiting patiently, futilely, in line.

Seven months’ pregnant, and with two children, 29-year-old Florence Louis clutched her four packets. “It is enough, because I didn’t have anything at all,” she said.

On a hillside golf course, perhaps 50,000 people were sleeping in a makeshift tent city overlooking the stricken capital. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division flew there Saturday to set up a base for handing out water and food.

After the initial frenzy among the waiting crowd, when helicopters could only hover and toss out their cargo, a second flight landed and soldiers passed out some 2,000 military-issue ready-to-eat meals to an orderly line of Haitians.

More American help was on the way: The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort steamed from the port of Baltimore on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive here Thursday. More than 2,000 Marines were set to sail from North Carolina to support aid delivery and provide security.

But for the estimated 300,000 newly homeless in the streets, plazas and parks of Port-au-Prince, help was far from assured.

“They’re already starting to deliver food and water, but it’s mayhem. People are hungry, everybody is asking for water,” said Alain Denis, a resident of the Thomassin district.

Denis’s home was intact, and he and his elderly parents have some reserves, but, he said, “in a week, I don’t know.”

Aid delivery was still bogged down by congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport, quake damage at the seaport, poor roads and the fear of looters and robbers.

The problems at the overloaded airport forced a big Red Cross aid mission to strike out overland from Santo Domingo, almost 200 miles away in the Dominican Republic. The convoy included up to 10 trucks carrying temporary shelters, a 50-bed field hospital and some 60 medical specialists.

“It’s not possible to fly anything into Port-au-Prince right now. The airport is completely congested,” Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said from the Dominican capital.

Another convoy from the Dominican Republic steered toward a U.N. base in Port-au-Prince without stopping, its leaders fearful of sparking a riot if they handed out aid themselves.

The airport congestion touched off diplomatic rows between the U.S. military and other donor nations.

France and Brazil both lodged official complaints that the U.S. military, in control of the international airport, had denied landing permission to relief flights from their countries.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who has 7,000 Brazilian U.N. peacekeeping troops in Haiti, warned against viewing the rescue effort as a unilateral American mission.

The squabbling prompted Haitian President Rene Preval, speaking with the AP, to urge all to “keep our cool and coordinate and not throw accusations.”

At a simpler level, unending logistical difficulties dogged the relief effort.

A commercial-sized jet landed with rescue and medical teams from Qatar, only to find problems offloading food aid. They asked the U.S. military for help, surgeon Dr. Mootaz Aly said, and were told: “We’re busy.”

As relief teams grappled with on-the-ground obstacles, the U.S. leadership promised to step up aid efforts. In Washington, Obama joined with his two most recent White House predecessors to appeal for Americans to donate to the cause.

“We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience,” he said.

Their resilience was truly being tested, however.

On a back street in Port-au-Prince, a half-dozen young men ripped water pipes off walls to suck out the few drops inside. “This is very, very bad, but I am too thirsty,” said Pierre Louis Delmar.

Outside a warehouse, hundreds of desperate Haitians simply dropped to their knees when workers for the agency Food for the Poor announced they would distribute rice, beans and other supplies. “They started praying right then and there,” said project director Clement Belizaire.

Children and the elderly were asked to step first into line, and some 1,500 people got food, soap and rubber sandals until supplies ran out, he said.

The aid official was overcome by the tragic scene. “This was the darkest day of everybody living in Port-au-Prince,” he said.


Look tomorrow for two stories. One will be on the Conan/Leno/NBC scandal and the other will be on Pierre Garcon and the Haiti tragedy.