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Published: Friday, 1/22/2010

Focus shifts to keeping injured in Haiti alive

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The rubble from the earthquake quiet, search-and-rescue teams packed their dogs and gear yesterday as the focus shifted to keeping injured survivors alive, fending off epidemics, and getting help to hundreds of homeless camps.

As aftershocks shook the city nine days after the Jan. 12 quake, aid workers streamed into Haiti with water, food, drugs, latrines, construction equipment, telephones, and tons of other relief supplies.

The Red Cross called it the greatest deployment of emergency responders in its 91-year history.

U.S. military officials said the use of three additional airfields and the capital's seaport began yesterday, boosting the flow of food, water, and medical attention to earthquake victims.

Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said the military had begun using two airfields in neighboring Dominican Republic and another south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

Those extra airports are aimed at taking some of the burden off the Port-au-Prince airport, which has been swamped by aid shipments and military flights since the earthquake.

The U.S. military reported a waiting list of 1,400 international relief flights seeking to land in Port-au-Prince, where 120 to 140 flights were arriving daily.

Four ships have managed to unload cargo at the capital's earthquake-damaged port, holding out the promise of a new avenue for getting aid to the city.

As the flow of help increased, doctors scrambled to take care of the thousands of injured survivors who have overwhelmed clinics and field hospitals. But the sheer scale of the catastrophe left many of the hundreds of thousands of victims without help.

The picture was especially grim at emergency medical centers, where shortages of surgeons, nurses, their tools, and supplies have backed up critical cases.

"A large number of those coming here are having to have amputations, since their wounds are so infected," said Brynjulf Ystgaard, a Norwegian surgeon at a Red Cross field hospital.

Food was reaching tens of thousands, but the need was much greater.

A Haitian government-estimated toll stood at 200,000 dead, as reported by the European Commission. It said 250,000 people were injured and 2 million homeless in the nation of 9 million people.

As U.S. troops began patrolling Port-au-Prince to boost security, sporadic looting and violence continued. People made off with food, cell phones, and anything else they could grab from damaged shops downtown.

At least 122 people were saved by search-and-rescue teams, the U.S. government has reported.

But as hopes faded yesterday, some of the 1,700 specialists, working in four dozen teams with 160 dogs, began demobilizing.

Joe Downey, a fire battalion chief from an 80-member New York City police and firefighter unit, said this was the worst destruction his rescue team had ever seen.

"Katrina was bad," he said of the 2005 hurricane. "But this was a magnitude at least 100 times worse."

Doctors warned of potential outbreaks of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, and other communicable diseases among hundreds of thousands living in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation.

In other developments:

•U.S. taxpayers will be able to write off charitable donations to Haiti relief efforts when they file their 2009 taxes this spring under a bill that received final congressional approval yesterday.

•The World Bank announced it will waive payments on Haiti's debt for five years; the International Monetary Fund said its proposed loan would be interest-free until late 2011.

•The death toll for the United Nations in Haiti has reached 61, the greatest loss of life the world body has suffered from a single incident in its 65-year history.



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