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US Company Airlifts Emergency Supplies to Flood-Stricken Dominican Republic, Haiti - 2004-06-10

A company in the northeastern state of Connecticut and its employees have airlifted more than 50,000 pounds of emergency supplies to flood victims in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The humanitarian effort grew out of the company's response to the 9/11 attacks.

International relief groups have helped to organize emergency supplies for the victims of floods and landslides in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As many as 2,000 people may have died on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island the two small nations share. Hundreds more are missing.

This week, a private company, Diageo, airlifted 56,000 pounds of rice, beans, cooking oil and powdered infant formula to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Diageo executive vice president Guy Smith traveled on the cargo plane and made sure the supplies reached local Diageo employees and aid groups in both nations for distribution.

"As we speak, our employees in the Dominican Republican and in Haiti are working with Catholic Relief Services in Haiti and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the Dominican Republic, both of whom have a network of clinics through the countries," said Mr. Smith. "We are guaranteed that way that the right material gets to the people who need it the most immediately. We leave nothing to chance, particularly in a disaster situation."

Mr. Smith says Diageo's humanitarian aid program is aimed at filling in gaps while large relief groups get organized.

"One of the important things about this type of disaster relief, what we call triage disaster relief, it gets material that is desperately need in the immediate aftermath of a terrible calamity such as the flooding that has occurred in Haiti and the Dominican Republic," he added. "Longer term, the big organizations come in and help people and that it very, very important, but in that window between when a flood or hurricane or earthquake strikes and when the big aid operations can set up and operate, there are people who are exposed. They are in trauma. They are in shock and these kinds of immediate food and supplies help people bridge that terrible gap."

Diageo showed videotapes of the airlift to members of New York's large Dominican and Haitian communities Thursday. The company began its humanitarian program after the 9/11 attacks when Diageo employees set up a committee to raise money for the victims, which the company then matched, but afterward, Mr. Smith says, Diageo employees wanted to do more.

"So we did what we called a Ground Zero to Ground Zero airlift to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we had as part of the team members Diageo employees and New York City firefighters and cops who had worked at Ground Zero. We flew a cargo plane into Bagram Air Base just outside of Kabul within hours after the coalition forces had liberated it from the Taleban and we delivered 100,000 pounds of food to an orphanage in Kabul and then we did the same thing to a children's hospital in Baghdad," he said.

Mr. Smith says the humanitarian efforts are a way for the company's employees to reach out to people in need. Diageo makes premium drinks such as Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gin, Johnny Walker scotch and Guinness beer. The company has 30,000 employees working in operations around the globe, including a Guinness brewery in Haiti. Its international headquarters is in London, but the North American operation runs out of the state of Connecticut.