Haiti's devastation is slowing eager helpers
BY JONATHAN M. KATZ & TAMARA LUSH Associated Press
Friday, January 15, 2010
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Doctors and search dogs, troops and rescue teams flew to this devastated land of dazed, dead and dying people Thursday, finding bottlenecks everywhere, beginning at a main airport short on jet fuel and ramp space and without a control tower.
The international Red Cross estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's cataclysmic earthquake, based on information from the Haitian Red Cross and government officials. Hard-pressed recovery teams resorted to using bulldozers to transport loads of dead.
Worries mounted, meanwhile, about food and water for the survivors. "People have been almost fighting for water," aid worker Fevil Dubien said as he distributed water in a northern Port-au-Prince neighborhood.
From Virginia, from France, from China, a handful of rescue teams were able to get down to work, scouring the rubble for survivors.
But the silence of the dead otherwise was overwhelming in a city where uncounted bodies littered the streets in the 80-degree heat, and dust-caked arms and legs reached, frozen and lifeless, from the ruins. Outside the General Hospital morgue, hundreds of collected corpses blanketed the parking lot as the grief-stricken searched among them for loved ones. Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers, key to city security, were trying to organize mass burials.
Patience already was wearing thin among the poorest who were waiting for aid, said David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
"They want us to provide them with help, which is, of course, what we want to do," he said. But they see U.N. vehicles patrolling the streets to maintain calm, and not delivering aid, and "they're slowly getting more angry and impatient," he said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama announced "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history," starting with $100 million in aid. The first of 800 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were bound for Haiti late Thursday, to be followed by more than 2,000 Marines.
From Europe, Asia and the Americas, other governments, the U.N. and private aid groups were sending planeloads of high-energy biscuits and other food, tons of water, tents, blankets, water-purification gear, heavy equipment for removing debris, helicopters and other transport, and teams of hundreds of search-and-rescue, medical and other specialists.
But two days after much of this ramshackle city was shattered, the global helping hand was slowed by the poor roads, airport and seaport of a wretchedly poor country.
About 60 aid flights had arrived by midday Thursday, but they then had to contend with the chokepoint of an overloaded Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration said at midday that it was temporarily halting all civilian flights from the U.S. at Haiti's request, because the airport was jammed and jet fuel was limited for return flights. The control tower had been destroyed in the tremor. Civilian relief flights were later allowed to resume.
The U.N. World Food Program said the quake-damaged seaport made ship deliveries of aid impossible.
The looting of shops that broke out after the 7.0-magnitude quake struck late Tuesday afternoon added to concerns.
The quake brought down Port-au-Prince's gleaming white National Palace and other government buildings, disabling much of the national leadership. That vacuum was evident Thursday, as no senior Haitian government officials were visible at the airport.
"Donations are coming in to the airport here, but there is not yet a system to get it in," said Kate Conradt, a spokeswoman for the Save the Children aid group.
Edmond Mulet, a former U.N. peacekeeping chief in Haiti, arrived Thursday from U.N. headquarters in New York to lead the relief effort, along with a U.N. disaster coordination team.
Wimhurst said the Haitian police "are not visible at all," no doubt because many had to deal with lost homes and family members, and law-and-order needs had fallen completely to the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers and international police in Haiti.
Across the sprawling, hilly city, people milled about in open areas, hopeful for help, sometimes setting up camps amid piles of salvaged goods, including food scavenged from the rubble. Small groups by roadsides could be seen burying dead.
Other dust-covered bodies were being dragged down streets, toward hospitals where relatives hoped to leave them. Countless remained unburied, stacked up, children's bodies lying atop mothers, tiny feet poking from blankets.
The injured, meanwhile, waited for treatment in makeshift holding areas — outside the General Hospital, for example, where the stench from piles of dead, just a few yards away, wafted over the assembled living. Crews began removing unclaimed bodies with bulldozers, dumping them into trucks, possibly for mass burial.
At the collapsed U.N. peacekeeping headquarters, an Estonian guard, Tarmo Joveer, was pulled alive and unhurt from the ruins at 8 a.m. Thursday, 39 hours after the quake — a "small miracle," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York. But U.N. officials reported that 36 other U.N. personnel, mostly peacekeepers and international police, were confirmed dead and almost 200 remained missing, including top staff.
Gladys Louis Jeune is greeted by her ecstatic daughter as she is pulled alive from the rubble of her home Thursday in Port-au-Prince, nearly 43 hours after Tuesday's deadly earthquake. Patrick Farrell / The Miami Herald / Associated Press