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Published: Sunday, 1/17/2010

Despair climbs in Haiti as disaster relief falters

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As tension rose yesterday in the quake-battered Haitian capital, relief workers scrambled to deliver food, water, and medical care, recover survivors still trapped in the rubble, and collect thousands of decaying bodies from the streets.

An immense relief operation was under way, with cargo planes and military helicopters buzzing over Haiti's main airport.

But three days after the earthquake struck, with many cries for help going silent, not nearly enough search-and-rescue teams or emergency supplies got through: The United Nations said it had fed 8,000 people, while 2 million to 3 million people remain in dire need.

Patience was wearing thin and reports of looting increased as another day went by with no power and limited fresh water.

“For the moment, this is anarchy,” said Adolphe Reynald, a top aide to the mayor of Port-au-Prince, as he supervised a makeshift first aid center that had no medicine to treat them. “There's nothing we can do.”

As many as 200,000 people may have died in the earthquake and three-quarters of the capital, Port-au-Prince, will need to be rebuilt, authorities said.

“We have already collected around 50,000 dead bodies. We anticipate there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number,” Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said.

An estimated 40,000 bodies have been buried in mass graves, Secretary of State for Public Safety Aramick Louis said.

If the casualty figures turn out to be accurate, the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit Haiti Tuesday would be one of the 10 deadliest earthquakes ever recorded.

Gangs of robbers have begun preying on survivors living in makeshift camps on sidewalks and streets strewn with rubble and decomposing bodies, as quake aftershocks rippled through neighborhoods.

Mr. Louis said President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive were living in, and coordinating the government response from, the judicial police headquarters near the airport and their main concern was that desperation was turning to violence.

“We are sending our police into areas where bandits are starting to operate. Some people are robbing, are stealing. That is wrong,” Mr. Louis said. “The people in the refugee places, once they do not find food and assistance, they are getting angry and upset. Our message to everyone is to stay calm.”

Governments and aid groups around the world poured relief supplies and medical teams into the Caribbean state — the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to visit today as major powers raced to save lives, speed up supplies, and avert unrest in a state with a history of internal conflict.

Planes and ships arrived with rescue teams, search dogs, heavy equipment, tents, water purification units, food, doctors, and telecoms teams.

But with a clogged airport, wrecked seaport, and roads littered with rubble, as well as the sheer scale of the destruction, aid was not yet reaching hundreds of thousands of victims.

The U.S. State Department said Haiti's government granted temporary control of the nation's main airport to the United States to speed relief work.

Raggedly dressed survivors held out their arms to reporters touring the city, begging for food and water.

Reports began to trickle in of heavy damage in the southern coastal city of Jacmel and other areas outside the capital.

President Obama, who pledged an initial $100 million for Haiti quake relief, promised the United States would do what it takes to save lives and get the country back on its feet.

“The scale of the devastation is extraordinary ... and the losses are heartbreaking,” Mr. Obama said.

At one destroyed supermarket, people swarmed over the rubble to try to reach food underneath.

Just outside the Cite Soleil slum, desperate people crowded around a burst water pipe, jostling to drink from the pipe or fill up buckets.

Some survivors, angry over the delay in getting aid, built roadblocks with corpses Thursday in one part of the city.

“Some aid is slowly getting through, but not to many people,” said Margaret Aguirre, an official with International Medical Corps.

The United States said the arrival of its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson with 19 helicopters yesterday would open a second channel to deliver help.

In Washington, the State Department raised the confirmed U.S. death toll from the quake to six and said 15 other Americans are presumed to have died.

An estimated 45,000 Americans are in the country.

At the airport in Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Americans waved their passports in the air and begged U.S. soldiers to let them on flights out of the country.

Before dawn, some did make it out. Military aircraft flew about 250 U.S. citizens visiting Haiti for tourism, business, charity, and family visits to New Jersey.

In other developments:

wU.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will travel to Haiti tomorrow to assess relief efforts.

wGroups that screen charities raised doubts about the organization backed by Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean, questioning its accounting practices and ability to function in Haiti even as more than $2 million poured into the Wyclef Jean Foundation Inc. via text message.



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