Officials Work to Speed Aid to Devastated Haitians

Saturday, 16 Jan 2010 08:50 AM

 

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – With food, water and other aid flowing into Haiti in earnest, relief groups and officials are focused on moving the supplies out of the clogged airport and to hungry, haggard earthquake survivors in the capital.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, to confer with President Rene Preval and U.S. and international civilian and military officials on how best to help the recovery effort and Haitian government.

Clinton on Friday cited a "race against time" before anxiety and anger create additional problems. Relief workers warned that unless supplies are quickly delivered, Port-au-Prince will degenerate into lawlessness.

The U.S. Southern Command said it now has 24 helicopters flying relief missions — many from warships off the coast — with 4,200 military personnel involved and 6,300 more due by Monday.

But there was still little sign of any aid in much of the city four days after the quake, and signs that the desperate — or the criminal — were taking things into their own hands.

A water delivery truck driver said he was attacked in one of the city's slums. There were reports of isolated looting as young men walked through downtown with machetes, and robbers reportedly shot one man whose body was left on the street.

"I don't know how much longer we can hold out," said Dee Leahy, a lay missionary from St. Louis, Missouri, who was working with nuns handing out provisions from their small stockpile. "We need food, we need medical supplies, we need medicine, we need vitamins and we need painkillers. And we need it urgently."

The Red Cross estimates 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake. While workers are burying some in mass graves, countless bodies remain unclaimed in the streets and the limbs of the dead protrude from crushed schools and homes.

Other bodies were thrown into trucks and driven to the outskirts of town to be burned Friday. Residents paint toothpaste around their nostrils and beg passers-by for surgical masks to cut the smell.

"If the government still exists and the United Nations is around, I hope they can help us get the bodies out," said Sherine Pierre, a 21-year-old communications student whose sister died when her house collapsed.

A third of Haiti's 9 million people may be in need of aid. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the World Food Program was providing high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat meals to around 8,000 people "several times a day."

"Obviously, that is only a drop in the bucket in the face of the massive need, but the agency will be scaling up to feed approximately 1 million people within 15 days and 2 million people within a month," he said.

U.S. officials on Friday also acknowledged the limits of their initial relief efforts, and promised a quick ramp-up in delivery of badly needed supplies. Dr. Rajiv Shah, the White House's coordinator of the U.S. relief effort who was also expected to arrive Saturday, indicated aid would begin flowing more freely in the next few days.

The effort to get aid to the victims has been stymied by blocked roads, congestion at the airport, limited equipment and other obstacles. U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the capital said popular anger was rising and warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.

The international Red Cross said a big medical convoy was heading into Haiti by road Saturday from the Dominican Republic because of the backups at the airport.

"It's not possible to fly anything into Port-au-Prince right now. The airport is completely congested," spokesman Paul Conneally told The Associated Press by phone from the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.

Conneally said the convoy was carrying a 50-bed field hospital, surgical teams and an emergency telecommunications unit. In Geneva, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said two larger field hospitals will arrive later.

The World Health Organization has said eight hospitals in Port-au-Prince were destroyed or damaged, severely curtailing treatment available for the injured.

Officials said damage to the seaport also is a problem for brining in aid. The arrival Friday of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson started helping immediately, taking pressure off the city's jammed airport. Within hours, an 82nd Airborne Division rapid response unit was handing out food, water and medical supplies from two cargo pallets outside the airport.

Others tried to help in smaller ways.

Milero Cedamou, the 33-year-old owner of a small water delivery company, twice drove his small tanker truck to a tent camp where thousands of homeless people are living. Hundreds clustered around to fill their plastic buckets.

"This is a crisis of unspeakable magnitude, it's normal for every Haitian to help," Cedamou said. "This is not charity."

Medical teams from other nations set up makeshift hospitals to tend to the critically injured. Time, however, was running short for the rescue of people who still might be alive under the rubble.

"Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. "Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb."

Still, there were improbable triumphs.

"It's a miracle," said Anne-Marie Morel, raising her arms to the sky after a neighbor was found alive in the rubble of a home. If one person could be resuscitated from the utter destruction of this street, there remained hope that many other could still be found alive, she said.

"Nonsense, there is no God and no miracle," shouted back Remi Polevard, another neighbor, who said his five children were somewhere under the nearby debris.

"How could he do this to us?" Polevard yelled.

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

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