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Protests Keep Denver Humanitarians From Traveling To Haiti

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - Gas price hikes touched off riots in Haiti's capital that have kept people away from Colorado who wanted to come to provide medical help.

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(credit: CBS)

Lori Vaclavik, the Executive Director of the humanitarian organization Bridge of Life, says some of the volunteers from her Denver-based group got as far as Miami before being turned back.

Another group made it into the Port-Au-Prince airport, but weren't able to get to their operations in the countryside so they were flown out via the Dominican Republic.

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Lori Vaclavik (credit: CBS)

Vaclavik says there was disappointment all around.

"We were really looking forward to bring health care to 2,000 Haitians this week," she said.

Katie Chandler of Denver reached the Bridge of Life facilities safely ahead of time. She spoke with CBS4's Rick Sallinger by video phone.

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Katie Chandler (credit: CBS)

"We are not feeling a lot of the protests going on in Port-Au-Prince, and they are dissolving, but they impeded what we were able to accomplish this week," Chandler said.

Bridge of Life has been operating in Haiti over the past four years treating people with chronic illnesses.

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Robenson Tissaint works as an interpreter at their locations. He explained some the work that they do.

"Seeing people with high blood pressure, diabetes," he said.

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(credit: CBS)

Many of volunteers come from the Denver-based dialysis company DaVita. They take time off and raise money to support the mission. Now they have been turned back. The organization operates similar programs across the globe.

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Vaclavik says it was a difficult decision to call them back, but safety was the most important factor.

"They wanted to go to Haiti. They knew the situation and still wanted to go there."

With the riots now easing, it is hoped they will soon be able to get in.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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