The group is part of the university's Health Administration program. They had spent two weeks touring the health care system in Haiti.
It wasn't until the group landed on American soil that they learned of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti.
"I'm happy to be alive but I'm afraid that many of the people I work with in Haiti may not have survived," Gifford said. "Haiti is ill prepared for this as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere."
Traveling through cities and rural areas, the students say the situation in Haiti was in dire condition even before the earthquake.
"Haiti's needs are so great. Hopefully this tragedy will bring more awareness to the extreme needs in Haiti and it won't be forgotten any more. The rural areas we visited didn't have water or electricity or access to clean water and food," student Maribeth Neelis said.
The group spent much of Wednesday trying to get in contact with the people they know and befriended during their stay on the island country.
"We had traveled with two guys who we became good friends with and we don't know what happened with them. They both live in Carrefour, which is an area that was pretty devastated so we don't know if they're OK or not," Neelis said.
As for the health care systems the group set out to study, they have received word that most of the clinics and hospitals were destroyed by the earthquake and its aftershocks.
"I'm afraid the health care facilities in town which were completely lacking to begin with are generally out of commission and I just can't imagine what they're doing for medical relief at this point," Gifford said.
For now, the university has stopped any official travel for students and staff to Haiti. The students, as well as Gifford, plan to volunteer to go back and offer assistance as soon as possible.
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