Haiti Quake Survivors Struggle While Awaiting Aid

Thursday, 14 Jan 2010 12:00 PM

 

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Desperately needed aid from around the world began arriving Thursday in quake-stunned Haiti, while rescuers struggled frantically to save the trapped and injured, using pickup trucks as ambulances and doors as stretchers.

President Barack Obama said "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history" is moving toward Haiti, with thousands of troops and a broad array of civilian rescue workers deployed to aid the stricken country — backed by more than $100 million in relief funds.

To the Haitians, Obama promised: "You will not be forsaken."

Planes carrying teams from China and France, Spain and the United States landed at Port-au-Prince's airport with searchers and tons of water, food, medicine and other supplies — with more promised from around the globe.

It took six hours to unload a Chinese plane because the airport lacked the needed equipment — a hint of possible bottlenecks ahead as a global response brings a stream of relief flights to the airport, itself damaged by Tuesday's magnitude-7 earthquake.

Search and rescue squads from Virginia and Iceland arrived Wednesday and some groups — from Cuba's government and Doctors Without Borders — used staff already in the country to treat victims immediately after the quake.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that "tens of thousands, we fear, are dead" and said United States and the world must do everything possible to help Haiti surmount its "cycle of hope and despair."

The U.S. dispatched troops and ships along with aid to Haiti, and other nations were joining the effort to help the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, where the international Red Cross estimated 3 million people — a third of the population — may need emergency relief.

In the streets of the capital, survivors set up camps amid piles of salvaged goods, including food scavenged from the rubble.

There seemed to be little official presence in much of Port-au-Prince: Trucks carrying police and U.N. workers or equipment to clear away debris were often stuck in traffic on roads filled with pickup trucks, cars and pedestrians. At many collapsed buildings, neighbors and volunteers dug through rubble — often with bare hands — to free trapped residents without help from the government.

Yet the often-chaotic city was surprisingly calm, despite the devastation. Journalists heard little or no gunfire and saw no major violence.

Bodies lay in the street, often covered by a white cloth, in the tropical heat. Some people dragged the dust-covered dead along the roads, trying to reach a hospital where they might leave them.

Others tried to carry dead relatives to nearby hills for impromptu burials, prompting Brazil's military — the biggest continent among U.N. peacekeepers — to warn the practice could lead to an epidemic. It said it is asking authorities to create a new cemetery.

The Brazilian military said it also was worried that bodies could be left too long because many Voodoo followers in Haiti do not allow the dead to be touched before all their rituals are concluded.

"This is much worse than a hurricane," said Jimitre Coquillon, a doctor's assistant working at a triage center set up in a hotel parking lot. "There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die."

The aid group Doctors Without Borders treated wounded at two hospitals that withstood the quake and set up tent clinics elsewhere to replace its damaged facilities. Cuba, which already had more than 300 doctors in Haiti, treated injured in field hospitals.

Obama promised Haitians an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort, including the military and civilian emergency teams from across the U.S., adding that America — and the world — "stands with you."

Clinton said the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Carl Vinson "will be on the horizon soon, the Coast Guard has performed magnificently in helping to evacuate the injured, particularly American citizens."

The U.S. Army said a detachment of more than 100 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division was heading out from Fort Bragg in North Carolina, looking for locations to set up tents and other essentials in preparation for the arrival of another 800 personnel on Friday.

That's in addition to some 2,200 Marines to be sent, as the military prepares to help with security, search and rescue missions and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. More than a half-dozen U.S. military ships also are expected to help, with the largest, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, arriving later Thursday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that 91 injured French nationals were evacuated to the Caribbean island of Martinique in three planes that had delivered aid and medical personnel.

There was no firm estimate on how many people were killed by Tuesday's quake. Haitian President Rene Preval said the toll could be in the thousands.

"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said told CNN.

The acrid smell of drywall and ancient dust that filled the air immediately after the quake has faded, giving way to the usual aromas of Port-au-Prince — flowers and mango trees, with a hint of gasoline and urine.

Police officers carried the injured in their pickup trucks. Wisnel Occilus, a 24-year-old student, was wedged between two other survivors in a truck bed headed to a police station. He was in an English class when the quake struck and the building collapsed.

"The professor is dead. Some of the students are dead, too," said Occilus, who suspected he had several broken bones. "Everything hurts."

Other survivors carried injured to hospitals in wheelbarrows and on stretchers fashioned from doors.

Calls to emergency services weren't getting through because systems that connect different phone networks were still not working, said officials from a telecommunications provider in Haiti.

About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest. The U.N.'s 9,000-member peacekeeping force sent patrols across the capital's streets while securing the airport, port and main buildings.

Looting began immediately after the quake, with people seen carrying food from collapsed buildings, but aid workers said disturbances were rare. Inmates were reported to have escaped from the damaged main prison in Port au Prince, said Elisabeth Byrs, a U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman in Geneva.

Port-au-Prince's ruined buildings fell on both the poor and the prominent: The body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found in the ruins of his office, said the Rev. Pierre Le Beller of the Saint Jacques Missionary Center in Landivisiau, France.

Haitian Senate President Kelly Bastien was rescued from the collapsed Parliament building and taken to a hospital in the neighboring Dominican Republic. The president of Haiti's Citibank was also among the survivors being treated there, said Rafael Sanchez Espanol, director of the Homs Hospital in Santiago.

A State Department official announced one American had died in Haiti, saying that at least 164 U.S. citizens have been evacuated since the quake.

Coast Guard C-130 planes have airlifted 42 American officials and their families and another 72 private citizens to safety, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Another 370 Americans were awaiting flights out, he said. There were about 45,000 Americans living in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it set up a Web site to help Haitians find missing loved ones. Robert Zimmerman, deputy head of the group's tracing unit, said people in Haiti and abroad can use the site to register names of missing relatives.

——

Associated Press contributors to this story: Jonathan Katz and Jennifer Kay in Port-au-Prince; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Frank Jordans and Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva; Jenny Barchfield in Paris; Pauline Jelinek in Washington; Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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