Misery, Few Miracles As Haiti Clamors For Help
Monday, January 18, 2010
Thousands more U.S. Marines will begin to reach the coast of Haiti on Monday, poised to help move aid and maintain order six days after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean island nation.
But the persistence of on-the-ground logistic confusion and growing concerns about security on the devastated streets of the capital of Port-au-Prince have frustrated efforts to get relief supplies and medical care to increasingly desperate and hungry survivors.
The aid that has reached Haitians so far amounts to "a drop in the bucket," said Charles MacCormack, head of Save the Children, in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.
"There's going to have to be a huge increase," MacCormack said.
U.S. Military Presence Grows
More than 2,000 Marines are expected to arrive Monday and Tuesday in Haiti, where they'll assist in relief efforts and security. They are part of an influx of 7,500 U.S. military personnel expected in Haiti early this week.
They join more than 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground and 3,000 on ships anchored offshore, according to U.S. Southern Command Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, who is heading the military's relief effort, dubbed Operation Unified Response.
NPR's military correspondent Tom Bowman said that of the 10,000 troops ultimately expected in Haiti, about half will remain on military ships, supporting the operation from offshore — coordinating flight operations, moving cargo and caring for the sick and wounded.
Bowman also said that two additional companies from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division will soon join troops already on the ground. And the Navy's USS Comfort, a hospital ship, is expected to arrive mid-week.
The U.S. Southern Command reported Sunday that there are 30 helicopters providing relief to survivors in Haiti, and that the Air Force has flown 29 supply missions into the country. Three Navy ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Vinson are currently off the Haitian coast, and, the government says, have been dispatching helicopters and relief supplies.
Search For Survivors Grows Futile
While reports of looting and violence have increased, Haitians have also found rare moments to celebrate as rescue workers continued Sunday to pull a few survivors from the rubble. But time was running out for others who may still be trapped alive. Authorities estimate the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti Jan. 12 has killed tens of thousands of people, with untold numbers of injuries. As many as 3 million people may be in direct need of aid.
Search-and-rescue volunteers from around the world continued their largely futile efforts Monday, as concern accelerated over the piles of decomposing bodies and lack of sanitation in the dozens of tent cities that have popped up across the capital city.
Six days after the earthquake, hopes are fading for rescuing more people who are trapped.
In Leogane, a city 40 miles west of the capital and very close to the epicenter, search and rescue teams from Iceland and Great Britain found no survivors, NPR's Jackie Northam reported.
The teams, the first outsiders to reach a city of 160,000 that Northam reported had been largely flattened, concentrated their efforts at a school where 40 to 50 students had been when the quake hit.
About a dozen children had been pulled out by local people days ago, Northam said. But even with listening devices, cameras and a search dog, the teams of rescue workers found no sign of life.
"These were kids in there," Northam said. "The rescue teams gave it what they have — they've got kids, but they have to move on."
The team is back in Port-au-Prince, she said, adding: "We're on day six now; everything is on a timeclock."
Tent Cities Emerge
Many survivors have gathered in more than 60 tent cities that have sprung up in the capital of Port-au-Prince, NPR's Greg Allen reported.
And in those encampments, where the poor and middle class huddle side-by-side, conditions are grim.
"The stench of dead bodies permeates the area from surrounding homes where they've not yet been removed," said Allen, from the Canape Vert neighborhood, where UN officials estimate 80 to 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed, displacing more than 50,000 people.
"Almost as bad is the smell from a median strip in the road people are using as a toilet," Allen said. "There's little food and water. It's an abominable situation that's just getting worse."
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has estimated that the Haitian government has now recovered more than 20,000 bodies.
Though a reliable toll may be weeks away, the Pan American Health Organization estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 Haitians died in the quake.
The World Food Program is planning a tent camp for 100,000 people on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
Security On The Streets
As hungry and displaced Haitians converge on damaged stores to find food and other items, local police continued largely ineffective efforts to keep order.
NPR's Carrie Kahn, in Port-au-Prince, reported Monday that police spent hours chasing residents out of damaged markets, but when officers left, groups dashed back through crumbled doorways to pull out any goods they could.
At a capital city cemetery, Ogeris Oblasts told an NPR producer he saw police drop off four young men accused of looting. The police made the men lie face down, then shot them, Oblasts said.
"A crowd gathered around one of the men as he slowly bled to death," Kahn reported. "Many said he deserved to die because he was a thief."
The shooting, she said, happened just around the corner from the city's soccer stadium, where hundreds of the displaced were without food and water going on a week.
Frustration and desperation among survivors had led to both anger at Americans for the slowness of aid, and a sense that only the United States and Great Britain can bring order.
"I hate to say that we need the American and the British to take over this place," resident Frantz Dejean told NPR.
The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division has stationed about 900 troops at Haiti's airport, and expect to have 3,500 soldiers in the country by the end of the week to establish law and order, according to Lt. Col Rob Molsbey.
President Obama over the weekend issued an executive order to call up military reserves to aid in the Haiti effort.
Former President Bill Clinton is expected to visit Haiti Monday to help facilitate relief. He and former President George W. Bush have combined forces to collect money for the relief effort.
In an interview Monday with CNN, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten compared Port-au-Prince to a scene from Japan in World War II. "It's flat," he said. "It looks like an atomic bomb went off. Streets are completely blocked."
About rescue and relief efforts, Merten said: "We're doing the best we can."
Merten said that although the security situation in Haiti "isn't super at the best of times," people overall have been "very calm" after the disaster, and generally orderly in waiting in lines for food and assistance.
"We're watching it very carefully," he said of the security situation.
Impatience With U.S. Management
The Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders continued to criticize U.S. management of the nation's tiny, one-runway airport, saying that government flights were being given precedence over humanitarian flights.
The group complained of a bottleneck at the airport, and spokesman Jason Cone said that the U.S. military needed "to be clear on its prioritization of medical supplies and equipment."
On Monday, a French government minister called on the United Nations to investigate and clarify the dominant U.S. role in Haiti.
French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet said that international aid efforts were about helping Haiti, not "occupying" it. He complained that U.S. forces last week, citing congestion at the damaged airport, turned away a Doctors Without Borders flight carrying a mobile hospital. The plane was allowed to land the following day.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit Saturday to Haiti, said that the U.S. government has no intention of taking power from Haitian officials.
Both countries have previously occupied Haiti.
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, the on-the-ground U.S. commander in Haiti, called for patience.
"We're working aggressively to open up other ways to get in here," he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
That includes repairing the capital city's harbor, which has been unusable because of damage caused by the quake. The White House said Sunday that the U.S. Coast Guard ship Oak had arrived and would use cranes and other equipment to make the port functional.
Aid And Obstacles
European Union nations pledged over $575 million Monday to help survivors and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, as the international community contemplates the largest single relief effort since the 2004 South Asian tsunami.
But money alone cannot solve all the problems, according to MacCormack of Save the Children.
MacCormack told NPR's Renee Montagne that aid agencies are doing their best in Haiti and have learned from the tsunami and a ruinous earthquake in Pakistan in 2005.
"Today, we're moving and others are moving as well as we were — if not better — than in other emergencies," MacCormack said. "The problem is a real lack of well-trained Haitians."
"In Pakistan, in Indonesia, in [Hurricane] Katrina, we were able to bring in Pakistani, Indonesian, American accountants, water specialists, logisticians who spoke the language and knew the culture," he said. "There just aren't enough of Haitian engineers and doctors and accountants and auditors."
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.