Death toll in Haiti hits 70,000 as aid trickles through capital
Published: Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:41 p.m.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As the confirmed death toll in Haiti's calamitous earthquake reached 70,000, the flow of medical help and food and water to survivors began showing signs of improvement Sunday, though persistent logistical logjams at the capital's airport — complicated by sporadic, isolated violence — kept many residents of the capital from receiving aid.
To ease demands in the capital, Haiti's prime minister said Sunday the government plans to begin helping Port-au-Prince residents relocate to areas untouched by the quake outside the destroyed capital where they may be able to rely on relatives or better fend for themselves. Many people were beginning to leave the city on their own for the countryside to the north.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the government will begin busing people outside Port-au-Prince as early as Wednesday, while relocating homeless people to spontaneous camps established by residents within the metropolitan area where distribution of aid can be focused and some measure of sanitation provided.
"I don't like the camp idea, but we have to regroup people in places where we can give them water, food and permit them to have a more decent life," he said.
Experts, meanwhile, warned that the window for finding additional survivors was closing fast, even as search and rescue teams from Israel, Turkey, the United States and elsewhere continued working around the clock. A total of 62 people, most of them Haitian citizens, have been rescued since the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, White House officials said Sunday afternoon.
Tattered and hungry but clinging to hope, Haitians gathered early Sunday to pray amid the ruins of churches. They knelt on rocky debris, raised their arms in prayer, and sang aloud in the roofless sanctuary of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Port-au-Prince.
Many wore face masks, shielding themselves from the stench of decay and days with no running water. Others wore their Sunday best.
"We have a lot to pray for. We're not getting food or water," said Sully Dorisme. "Nobody has come talk to us. Somebody should come talk to us to give us hope."
Some desperate prayers were answered Sunday.
Three people were rescued from the Caribbean Market early Sunday as rescue teams searched for more survivors at eight other locations, Tim Callaghan, senior advisor for USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, said in a telephone news conference.
Callaghan said time was running out to find survivors, but that the Haitian government would signal when the rescue phase of operations would end.
One rescue on Sunday took place at the collapsed U.N. mission headquarters in the capital, where rescuers freed a Danish worker from the rubble about 15 minutes after an emotional visit from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"I am here with a message of hope that help is on the way," Ban told a group of men and boys shouting that they needed food, water and work, the Associated Press reported.
Ban said the U.N. is feeding 40,000 people, and expects that figure to rise to 2 million within a month. He called the quake "one of the most serious humanitarian crises in decades."
The confirmed death toll, meanwhile, exceeded preliminary U.N. estimates of 50,000 dead and seemed certain to climb higher.
Bellerive said Sunday that government trucks had collected 70,000 dead for mass burial, though that figure includes only bodies collected in Port-au-Prince and nearby Leogane. There is no official count for deaths in Jacmel, a hard-hit city on the southeastern coast.
The U.S. State Department confirmed Sunday that among the dead were 16 Americans.
While road builders turned mortuary workers collect the dead in Port-au-Prince, relief workers struggled to coordinate the arrival and distribution of food, water, medicine and other supplies — sometimes in conditions of deteriorating security.
More than two-thirds of people in Port-au-Prince left homeless by the quake have yet to receive food aid, leading to "building" tensions in the streets, Bellerive said.
"We are now 100,000 around people receiving food dailies when we have 350,000 families on the street," Bellerive said. "There is a big gap. I am preoccupied by the fact that we still have a lot of food at the airport that is not getting to the population."
There have been reports of sporadic violence and unruly crowds desperate for supplies slowing the distribution of food, water and medicine.
Shooting in a Petionville slum forced a convoy carrying enough food for 40,000 people to turn around at noon, almost as soon as it left the United Nations base near the Port-au-Prince airport.
U.S. military officials said they were giving priority to distributing water in Haiti, but that their efforts have been slowed by tumultuous crowds desperate for the supplies.
U.N. officials began to distribute food at the National Palace briefly on Saturday, but the crowds got out of control.
Kim Bolduc, deputy special representative for the U.N.'s mission, told reporters that the next food distribution wouldn't take place until Monday as the agency still had to identify sites secure enough to do so.
But U.S. officials said 9,000 U.N. security forces, bolstered by arriving American military personnel, should keep a lid on problems.
About 100 U.S troops with the 82nd Airborne are already on the ground in Haiti, and another 500 were scheduled to arrive by Monday to help with security and distribution of aid, White House Communications Director Denis McDonough said at a news conference.
To date, more than 600,000 humanitarian rations have been brought into Haiti, USAID's Callaghan said, adding that 50,000 people were served meals in Port-au-Prince on Saturday. He said that 250,000 liters of water also are being distributed at 52 different points.
Additionally, a ship carrying 57,500 pounds of food arrived in Haiti on Sunday, Callaghan said, though it was unclear how the supplies would be unloaded and delivered since the port is out of commission.
(Lesley Clark of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report from Haiti. Daniel Chang of McClatchy Newspapers contributed from Miami.)
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