The first group of Canadians arrived at Montreal's Trudeau Airport early Friday morning, exhausted and relieved, after escaping the horrific disaster in Haiti.

About 100 people, 60 of them children, were flown in a Hercules military aircraft - the same one that took Canadian soldiers into Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Soon after, a second plane, a C-17 carrying about 50 more people, landed in Montreal. A third aircraft arrived later in the morning.

Some were injured

Anxious relatives and politicians were on hand to welcome home the evacuees, many of whom were wrapped in Red Cross or grey military blankets, some with dried blood still caked on their faces. Some had to be pushed through the airport terminal in wheelchairs.

But reunions with family members had to wait, as the evacuees were packed aboard airport buses and ferried to a nearby hotel to meet with their relatives.

"It was hell"

Medical crews were standing by to take the wounded to a specially prepared area of the Wyndham Montreal Airport Hotel. Priority in the repatriation effort was given to women, children, and the injured.

"Thank you," said one of the first men on the ground. "Thank you for bringing us home."

"I haven't slept in three days," another survivor said. "It was hell."

Peter Kent, Canada's minister of state of foreign affairs (America) was one of the politicians on hand to greet the survivors.

"Harrowing stories"

"There were any number of harrowing stories and very touching stories," he told Canada AM in Montreal, "members of the Haitian Canadian community returning on board the flight; missionaries; missionary families; folks that had walked many kilometeres through rubble and across the devastated capital to get to the Canadian embassy. And to a person, all of them paid high tribute to the Canadians on the ground."

Four Canadians so far have been confirmed dead: an Ontario nurse, a Nova Scotia RCMP officer and a couple from Montreal.

Kent said a number of the evacuees left behind friends and colleagues who were killed in the earthquake.

"Of course the first priority now is for the living," Kent said, "but we remain fully committed to returning the dead to Canada just as soon as time and flight capacity allow."