Red Cross fears Haiti strife

January 18, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 18 – The Red Cross warned on Monday that violence by desperate Haitians is growing despite the mammoth international earthquake relief operation and the arrival of thousands of American troops.

While emergency teams have found more survivors in the rubble, conditions have barely improved for the hundreds of thousands sleeping rough in the streets.

Hundreds of people ransacked a Port-au-Prince market on Sunday and police shot dead one rioter. Other incidents have also been reported.

"Prices for food and transport have skyrocketed since last Tuesday and incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

Many residents of Port-au-Prince felt they were in "a catastrophic situation," it added.

Six days after the magnitude 7.0 quake, millions of homeless, injured and traumatised people are desperate for food, water and medicine. All around is the stench of rotting bodies.

A government minister said 70,000 bodies had already been collected and officials have expressed fears the death toll may top 200,000.

International aid is trickling in but supplies remain scarce amid the enormity of a crisis the United Nations estimates affected three million people and left 300,000 homeless.

US President Barack Obama has mobilised military reserves and another 7,500 troops were to join 5,800 US forces already on the scene or in ships off Haiti.

"Time is still of the essence. We\’re getting better, but there is still a lot of misery in Haiti," said Rear Admiral Ted Branch, who commands the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson strike group.

Amidst the death and desperation were life-affirming tales of survival against all the odds, but the rescue teams in Haiti fear these may be among the last.

A text message to the United Nations set in motion a relief operation that led to the rescue two days later of Maria, Ariel and Lamy after being buried for more than 100 hours under a collapsed supermarket.

"I\’m seven," Ariel shouted to rescuers seeking signs of life, adding that she was stuck next to a dead man but covered with supermarket food.

"It was electric when we saw the fruit of our labour, when that little girl came out," said Joseph Fernandez, of a Florida search and rescue team.

The German co-owner of a leading Port-au-Prince hotel also sent a text message that led to her rescue after spending four days under the debris.

Two Australian news crews dug by hand to rescue an 18-month-old baby lying alongside her dead parents.

"She did not cry," reporter Robert Penfold told The Australian newspaper. "She looked astonished, almost as if she was seeing the world for the first time."

At the UN building in Port-au-Prince, Jen Kristensen, a Dane, emerged from the debris, and there was fresh hope at a pancaked commercial building, where US Fire Captain Miguel Garcia said one woman was talking to them.

"She indicates that there\’s more but we can\’t hear them," he said. "We\’ve seen a hand, but they can\’t get out from where they\’re at."

Elsewhere, residents abandoned the search for survivors and began torching the squalid ruins to stop the spread of disease.

Survivors besieged hospitals and makeshift clinics, some carrying the injured on their backs or on carts.

The UN\’s humanitarian relief body said hospitals on the Dominican Republic\’s border with Haiti were "overwhelmed" with quake victims and running short of medicines, equipment and doctors.

It also said the fuel shortage in Haiti was becoming "more and more critical".

Emergency workers are expanding to battered communities outside of Port-au-Prince, including Gressier, Petit Goave, and Leogane which were all flattened by the quake.

Despite Haitian frustration over the lack of supplies, the relief operation gets faster each day and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon promised more improvement after a visit on Sunday.

"Clearly, this is a disaster of epic proportions, and we\’ve got a lot of work ahead of us," said Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, in charge of the vast US military operation.

European Union nations on Monday promised more than 400 million euros (616 million dollars) in emergency aid and reconstruction funds for Haiti.

In the package, Britain trebled its humanitarian aid to 30 million dollars, while France will release 10 million euros for a UN emergency appeal. The EU may provide police and engineers for Haiti.

Canada said donor nations would meet on January 25 in Montreal to discuss reconstruction.


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