Friday, January 15, 2010
Haitians were growing increasingly desperate Friday in the stricken capital of Port-au-Prince as aid supplies remain scarce and bodies still litter the streets.
"Haiti is dead, is dead, is dead, is dead, is dead. Everything is breaking down," Philippe Mercier told NPR's Greg Allen. "It's like somebody who lives in the street, you know? Eat on the street, drink water on the street. There's no pure water."
Bodies were still piled up throughout the city. The international Red Cross estimated on Thursday that between 45,000 and 50,000 people were killed in the quake, based on information from the Haitian Red Cross and government officials. At least six Americans have been confirmed dead, including one U.S. diplomat, but the U.S. casualty count is expected to rise.
Hundreds of bodies have been stacked up outside the national hospital.
"The bodies went down an entire city block and up a city block," NPR's David Gilkey reported from Port-au-Prince. "As we were standing there, dump trucks, pick-up trucks, flat-bed trucks were pulling in, completely filled with bodies, and just dumping them there. I had no idea where they could even put them all."
Elsewhere in the city, several key roads were blocked by piles of bodies on Thursday night, Gilkey said.
"I don't know the reason, but we had to turn around four times due to piles of bodies in the middle of the road," he said.
More than 300 U.S. troops already have arrived and several thousand more are due to arrive over the weekend after President Obama ordered a massive $100 million relief effort.
But the Brazilian military, which makes up the largest contingent in the United Nations peacekeeping force, warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting. U.N. officials warned that Haitians are becoming increasingly fed up with the pace of aid.
"Unfortunately, they're slowly getting more angry and impatient," David Wimhurst, spokesman for the Brazilian-commanded U.N. peacekeeping mission, said of the Haitians. "I fear we're all aware that the situation is getting more tense as the poorest people who need so much are waiting for deliveries. I think tempers might be frayed."
The U.N. World Food Program initially reported on Friday that its Port-au-Prince warehouses had been looted since Tuesday's cataclysmic earthquake, but the group later said that most of its stockpiles had been recovered and the reports of theft were overblown.
The full extent of the damage is becoming clearer as relief workers fan out into more corners of the capital. Some 15 areas of the city have been hit particularly hard, with at least 70 percent of the buildings destroyed, according to assessments by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
One empty lot in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, where a building stood only a few days earlier, has been turned into an impromptu bathhouse where people gathered around a hose, filling buckets.
Rescue teams were continuing to extract survivors from crumpled buildings, but a lack of heavy equipment means that many people remain trapped. A rescue team from the Dominican Republic stood outside the wrecked Interior Ministry building where at least two people were believed to be alive amid the rubble.
We can't do anything because it's a difficult situation there," said Miguelina Tactou, one of the rescue workers. "Our people can be in danger."
Gerald Emil Brun survived after falling through three stories when the building that housed his architectural and engineering firm, Tecina, collapsed. His colleagues were not so lucky.
"We are recovering about eight cadavers so far from our building -— senior engineers and architects, a lot of them are gone," he said. "The way the construction industry goes in Haiti, we are probably responsible for 3,000 families. Now it's all down. It's all gone."
In what has long been the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, shock was giving way to despair.
"We need food. The people are suffering. My neighbors and friends are suffering," said Sylvain Angerlotte, 22. "We don't have money. We don't have nothing to eat. We need pure water."
Aid flights have been landing steadily at the Port-au-Prince airport. From Europe, Asia and the Americas, more than 20 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. Hundreds of search-and-rescue, medical and other specialists also headed to Haiti.
The massive international effort also yielded a rare diplomatic detente between the United States and Cuba, after Havana agreed to allow U.S. medical evacuation flights to fly through Cuban airspace to reach the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.
But the port in Haiti's capital is too badly damaged to be used for aid deliveries, which has severely restricted the pace of relief supplies. Some flights into Port-au-Prince had to be diverted — and they were even suspended altogether for several hours on Thursday — as the tarmac filled up with airplanes and jet fuel ran short.
The U.N. World Food Program began organizing distribution centers for food and water on Thursday, said Kim Bolduc, acting chief of its Haiti mission. She said that "the risk of having social unrest very soon" made it important to move quickly.
But aid workers have been blocked by debris on inadequate roads and by survivors gathered in the open out of fear of aftershocks and re-entering unstable buildings.
"The physical destruction is so great that physically getting from point A to B with the supplies is not an easy task," Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman in Rome, said at a news conference.
Contributing: NPR's Greg Allen and David Gilkey; NPR wire services.