Haitians claw for life

January 15, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 15 – Despairing Haitians clawed by hand to seek survivors entombed in rubble on Friday and looters raided UN food warehouses after a quake the Red Cross said may have killed 50,000 people.

A stench of death hung over the capital Port-au-Prince with rotting bodies littering the streets, where residents spent a third night in the open.

Despite the launch of a massive global aid operation, there was no sign of heavy lifting equipment among the ruins as tons of material and badly needed supplies clogged up the international airport.

Adding to the logistical nightmare were reports of looting and gunshots in the scramble for help, forcing some rescuers to stop work at nightfall.

The World Food Programme said its Port-au-Prince warehouses had been looted and it was having to find fresh supplies.

Spokeswoman Emilia Casella said the UN agency was planning urgent food aid for two million people affected by Tuesday\\\\\\\’s 7.0 earthquake.

"If international aid doesn\\\\\\\’t come, the situation will deteriorate quickly. We need water and food urgently," said one survivor, Lucille.

Every street has its row of corpses and crowds of wandering refugees.

Under the pancaked wreck of a dress store, one woman cried out faintly for help.

"They\\\\\\\’re going to die. They\\\\\\\’re going to die," spat Jean Rald Rocher as he and other volunteers clawed vainly at the concrete and twisted metal crushing her and at least one other woman showing signs of life.

At a nursing training school, some nurses had had time to huddle together before their building collapsed. One continued to cry under the rubble for a day, witnesses told AFP.

None survived.

A UN assessment by helicopter found some areas of the capital suffered "50 percent destruction," estimating 300,000 people had been left homeless.

The UN said search and rescue remained the top priority while food, clean water and sanitation were also critical.

At Port-au-Prince, flights jostled for space on the small airport\\\\\\\’s tarmac and single runway as aid poured in from around the world, but the big problem was getting it to where it was needed most.

The United States has assumed air traffic control but flights were delayed as staff struggled to unload supplies.

Little aid had trickled down to the streets. An AFP video showed scuffles breaking out as a helicopter dropped food over one part of the city.

Some 7,000 dead had already been buried by Thursday, Peru\\\\\\\’s Prime Minister Velasquez Quesquen said from Port-au-Prince, after Haitian officials earlier warned the overall toll may exceed 100,000.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the quake, the largest to hit the Caribbean country in more than 150 years, had killed 40,000 to 50,000 people.

In the agonising wait for help, some residents erected makeshift shelters with sheets and covers; others trekked with their meagre belongings, looking for refuge outside the city.

Doctors struggled to treat the vast numbers of sick and injured.

Hundreds of corpses, some mutilated and half-clothed, lay rotting outside the flattened central hospital, waves of distraught Haitians moving from body to body in search of loved ones.

Haitian-born rap star Wyclef Jean called it "the apocalypse". Related article: Many foreigners missing.

"We spent the day picking up dead bodies, all day that\\\\\\\’s what we did," he told Fox News.

"There\\\\\\\’s so much bodies in the streets that the morgues are filled up, the cemeteries are filled up."

Dozens of people were rescued as sniffer dogs began to comb the ruins, but moments of joy were few.

The international community has so far pledged some $268.5 million in aid, according to the UN.

Governments promised money, experts and equipment, donations rolled in by text message and Internet and Hollywood idols lent their star power to appeals for funds.

The aid coming in includes field hospitals, doctors, medicines, search and rescue teams with sniffer dogs, water and water purification equipment, food, tents, blankets, heavy-lifting equipment as well as soldiers and experts.

US President Barack Obama said: "To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates were coordinating the US effort, including 100 million dollars in immediate aid and more than 5,000 US troops, plus three ships and several Coast Guard cutters.

The USS Carl Vinson, a giant nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was due to drop anchor off the stricken nation later on Friday.

Its cavernous space, normally reserved for fighter jets, is filled with 19 helicopters to dispatch water, medicine and other aid.

Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with Brazil, Canada and others, plan a conference on Haiti\\\\\\\’s reconstruction.

The United Nations – which has been assuming security in the impoverished nation since 2004 – said 36 staffers had been killed in the quake, the worst disaster in the global body\\\\\\\’s history, while 188 were missing.


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