Wed | Nov 22, 2017

Aid for Haiti slows - Frustration sets in as bottleneck curtails support

Published:Friday | January 15, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Frustration sets in as bottleneck curtails support

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP):

Doctors and search dogs, troops and rescue teams flew to this devastated land of dazed, dead and dying people yesterday, finding bottlenecks everywhere, beginning at a main airport short on jet fuel and ramp space and without a control tower.

The international Red Cross estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's cataclysmic earthquake, based on information from the Haitian Red Cross and government officials. Worries mounted, meanwhile, about food and water for the survivors.

"People have been almost fighting for water," aid worker Fevil Dubien said as he distributed water from a truck in a northern Port-au-Prince neighbourhood.

From Virginia, from China, a handful of rescue teams were able to get down to work, scouring the rubble for survivors. In one 'small miracle', searchers pulled a security guard alive from beneath the collapsed concrete floors of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping headquarters, where many others were entombed.

But the silence of the dead otherwise was overwhelming in a city where uncounted bodies littered the streets in the 80-degree heat, and dust-caked arms and legs reached, frozen and lifeless, from the ruins.

Outside the General Hospital morgue, hundreds of collected corpses blanketed the parking lot, as the grief-stricken searched for loved ones.

Brazilian UN peacekeepers, key to city security, were trying to organise mass burials.

Patience was already wearing thin among the poorest who were waiting for aid, said David Wimhurst, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission.

In Washington, President Barack Obama announced "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history", starting with $100 million in aid. The first of 800 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were to deploy to Haiti from North Carolina, to be followed by more than 2,000 Marines.

From Europe, Asia and the Americas, other governments, the UN and private aid groups were sending planeloads of high-energy biscuits and other food, tents, blankets, water-purification gear, heavy equipment for removing debris, helicopters and other transport, and teams of hundreds of search-and-rescue, medical and other specialists.

Helping hand slowed

But two days after much of this ramshackle city was shattered, the global helping hand was slowed by the poor roads, airport and seaport of a wretchedly poor nation.

Some 60 aid flights had arrived by midday yesterday, but they then had to contend with the chokepoint of an overloaded Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport.

At midday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was temporarily halting all civilian flights from the United States at Haiti's request, because the airport was jammed and jet fuel was limited for return flights.

The control tower had been destroyed in Tuesday's tremor, complicating air traffic. Civilian relief flights were later allowed to resume.

Inadequate roads

Those which did land then had to navigate Haiti's inadequate roads, sometimes blocked by debris or by quake survivors looking for safe open areas as aftershocks still rumbled through the city.

The UN World Food Program said the quake-damaged seaport made ship deliveries of aid impossible.

The looting of shops that broke out after the 7.0-magnitude quake struck late Tuesday afternoon added to concerns.

The Brazilian military warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting by the desperate population.

For the long-suffering people of Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, shock and disbelief were giving way to despair.

But life also went on. Brazilian soldiers helped deliver a baby girl in an improvised garage-hospital at their base, just hours after the quake hit. Captain Fabricio Almeida de Moura said the child was doing well, but the life of the mother, who apparently went into labour from the shock of the tremor, was in danger from bleeding, the Agencia Brasil news service reported.