Rendell: rescued orphans are “the bomb”

Governor Rendell is clearly pumped about his successful rescue of 54 Haitian orphans with Pennsylvania ties. He told reporters he hadn’t slept in more than a day, but smiled his way through a half-hour Capitol press conference about the mission.

Two Western Pennsylvania sisters, Jamie and Ali McMutrie, had been running the Port-au-Prince orphanage, which was badly damaged in last week’s earthquake. Rendell says they had been talking to  the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center about evacuating the children, and that he got involved on Friday.

Rendell made the trip himself on the recommendation of Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, who said a high-ranking official would be able to cut through the red tape and get the children out of the country.  Rendell says, “that proved to be correct. We were denied our slot until the captain of the plane said the governor of Pennsylvania’s on the plane, and then the people in charge relented.” That got the governor’s party – which also included Congressman Jason Altmire, on the ground around six PM Monday night.

“ We spent the next six-and-a-half hours at the Port-au-Prince airport,” said Rendell. “Dealing with officials in Washington, on the ground in the embassy in Port-au-Prince, trying to convince them to let all of the orphans, the remaining 54 orphans at the orphanage, go back to Pittsburgh.” 47 of the 54 have adopted families lined up, and at first, Rendell says Haitian officials would only let those children go to Pittsburgh. He says the McMutries stuck to an “everyone goes or no one goes” ultimatum, but that the officials changed their minds after the White House got involved.

Catholic Charities and the Allegheny County Department of Public Welfare will oversee the other seven children’s adoption, but Rendell is confident they’ll find homes soon.

Rendell also addressed criticism that the freelance rescue mission was unnecessary,  pointing out the State Department and other federal agencies approved it.

One of the orphans, a girl named Emma, is still in Haiti. Rendell says in the rush to board a military flight to Florida, she was left in Port-au-Prince. Jamie McMutrie stayed behind to find her. They’ve been reunited, and will head to Pennsylvania soon.

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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