Death toll rises; aid distribution spreads
Posted January 19, 2010 6:27 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2010 11:09 a.m. EST
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Relief workers say pockets of violence in Haiti's devastated capital are hindering a slow increase in much-needed aid delivery, and some residents have banded together to protect the few possessions they have left.
As thousands of others head to the countryside, people in one hillside Port-au-Prince district blocked off access to their street with cars and asked local young men to patrol for looters.
"We never count on the government here," said Tatony Vieux, 29. "Never."
A week after the magnitude-7.0 quake struck, Tuesday dawned with new potential for reinforcements to aid in security and disaster relief. The United Nations Security Council was expected to approve additional peacekeeping forces. Some 2,000 U.S. Marines who arrived in the region a day earlier were parked offshore on ships.
The 82nd Airborne is running one of four supply distribution points on a hillside overlooking Port-au-Prince. About 50,000 people have created what has come to be called a "survivor's camp" on that hillside in order to be close at hand for the daily distribution of food and water.
Nearby, the division's forward operating base is at Petionville Club, a damaged country club that is home to Haiti's only golf course. Army medics set up a triage center there, treating many injured children.
But the scope of catastrophe had widened dramatically. The latest casualty report, from the European Commission citing Haitian government figures, doubled previous estimates of the dead to approximately 200,000, with some 70,000 bodies recovered and trucked off to mass graves.
The port remains blocked. Distribution of food, water and supplies from the city's lone airport to the needy are increasing but still remained a work in progress, frustrating many survivors who sleep in the streets and outdoor camps of tens of thousands. European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless.
"I simply don't understand what is taking the foreigners so long," said Raymond Saintfort, a pharmacist who brought two suitcases of aspirin and antiseptics to the ruins of a nursing home where dozens of residents suffered.
The U.N. humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said not all 15 planned U.N. food distribution points were up and running yet. The U.N. World Food Program said it expected to boost operations to feeding 97,000 on Monday. But it needs 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days, and it appealed for more government donations.
In one step to reassure frustrated aid groups, the U.S. military agreed to give aid deliveries priority over military flights at the now-U.S.-run airport here, according to the WFP. The Americans' handling of civilian flights had angered some humanitarian officials.
At the airport, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Chris Lounderman said about 100 flights a day were now landing.
Still, the U.S. military resorted to an air drop from C-17 transport planes Monday, parachuting pallets of supplies to a secured area outside the city rather than landing and unloading at the airport.
Meanwhile, rescuers continued finding survivors.
International rescue teams working together pulled two Haitian women from a collapsed university building, using machinery commonly nicknamed "jaws of life" to cut away debris and allow rescuers to pull them out on stretchers. A sister of one of the survivors shouted praises to God when the women emerged.
In the city's Bourdon area, a large team of French, Dominican and Panamanian rescuers using high-tech detection equipment said they heard heartbeats underneath the rubble of a bank building and worked into the night to try and rescue a survivor. The husband of a missing woman watched from a crowd of onlookers.
"I'm going to be here until I find my wife, I'll keep it up until I find her, dead or alive," said Witchar Longfosse.
Elsewhere, overwhelmed surgeons appealed for anesthetics, scalpels, and saws for cutting off crushed limbs. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, visiting one hospital, reported its staff had to use vodka to sterilize equipment. "It's astonishing what the Haitians have been able to accomplish," he said.
Front-line relief workers made some headway. By 7 a.m. Monday, an Israeli military field hospital had treated 196 people. "We understand it's a drop in a big sea," said facility spokesman Avi Berman.
Violence added to complications in places. Medical relief workers said they were treating gunshot wounds in addition to broken bones and other quake-related injuries. Nighttime was especially perilous and locals were forming night brigades and machete-armed mobs to fight bandits across the capital.
"It gets too dangerous," said Remi Rollin, an armed private security guard hired by a shopkeeper to ward off looters. "After sunset, police shoot on sight."
In the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, gangsters are reassuming control after escaping from the city's notorious main penitentiary and police urge citizens to take justice into their own hands.
"If you don't kill the criminals, they will all come back," a Haitian police officer shouted over a loudspeaker.
Alain Le Roy, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, cited the often unruly crowds at points where food and water is being distributed and said Haitian police had returned to the streets in only "limited numbers."
A Security Council vote was expected to add 1,500 more U.N. police and 2,000 more peacekeepers to join the 9,000 or so U.N. security personnel in Haiti.
Thousands are streaming out of Port-au-Prince, crowding aboard buses headed toward countryside villages. Charlemagne Ulrick planned to stay behind after putting his three children on a truck for an all-day journey to Haiti's northwestern peninsula.
"They have to go and save themselves," said Ulrick, a dentist. "I don't know when they're coming back."
U.S. and Haitian officials also warned any efforts of Haitians to reach the United States by boat would be thwarted. Haiti's ambassador in Washington, Raymond Joseph, recorded a message in Creole to his countrymen, urging them not to leave.
"If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case," Joseph said, according to a transcript on America.gov, a State Department Web site. "And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from."