U.S. Navy helicopters touched down on the grounds of Haiti’s damaged presidential palace on Tuesday bringing reinforcements in the struggle for security and earthquake disaster relief several dozen U.S. troops.
Haitians jammed the fence of the palace grounds to gawk, some cheering as the soldiers emerged.
“We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems,” said Fede Felissaint, a hairdresser.
Given the circumstances, he did not even mind the troops taking up positions at the presidential palace. “If they want, they can stay longer than in 1915,” he said, a reference to the start of a 19-year U.S. military presence in Haiti something U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted they have no intention of repeating.
A week after the magnitude-7.0 quake struck, killing an estimated 200,000 people, the U.N. Security Council also was expected to approve additional peacekeeping forces and some 2,000 U.S. Marines who arrived in the region a day earlier were parked offshore on ships.
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.
Pockets of looting and violence in Haiti’s devastated capital are hindering a slow improvement in much-needed aid delivery, and with local and foreign police still thin, some residents have banded together to protect the few possessions they have left.
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.”
European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless and many are exasperated by the delays in getting aid.
“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.
The U.S. military says it can now get 100 flights a day through the airport, up from 60 last week, but still could use more. Troops parachuted pallets of supplies to a secured area outside the city on Monday rather than further clog 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.
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, said there are 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.”
SOURCE: The Associate Press (c) 2010