Looters now roam Haiti streets

January 16, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 16 – Machete-wielding looters brought more terror to Haiti streets as US troops poured into the quake-ravaged nation to start streaming tons of aid to traumatized and destitute people.

Three days after Tuesday\’s earthquake, anger and frustration mounted in the ruined capital city of two million people desperate for food and water supplies amid the stench of corpses left rotting in the tropical sun.

A vanguard of the 10,000 US troops being deployed to Haiti took control of the airport, clogged with tons of relief supplies, and began the first mass distributions of aid seeking to quell any threat of violence.

"As long as the people are hungry and thirsty, as long as we haven\’t fixed the problem of shelter, we run the risk of riots," warned Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim, after a visit to the capital Port-au-Prince.

Haitian officials said at least 50,000 people had been killed and 1.5 million left homeless in the Caribbean nation, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has long witnessed violence and bloodshed.

"The bodies of more than 15,000 people have already been collected and buried," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said. "We simply settled with picking up the dead who were in the main streets."

As UN officials on the ground pleaded for more medical and food aid for survivors, looting became widespread and there were angry scuffles at the few distribution points.

The fourth night after the quake brought fresh fears for many families already terrorized by armed gangs.

"Men suddenly appeared with machetes to steal money," said Evelyne Buino, a young beautician, after a long night in a neighbourhood not far from the ruined city centre. "This is just the beginning."

"We need to protect and guard (our home). There are many armed men, a lot of looting," Eglide Victor, whose shabbily built house was the only one left standing on his street in the heart of the Haitian capital, told AFP.

Officials have estimated that some three million people – a third of the population – were affected by the 7.0-magnitude quake.

"We really need to focus on the living, and what we can do for them," Nicholas Reader, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told AFP.

There were angry, chaotic scenes at the airport and in hospitals there were harrowing tales of amputations and operations without anaesthetics.

The US military was gearing up to deliver 600,000 packages of basic food rations and 100,000 ten-litre containers of water.

Some 48 million dollars worth of food aid was arriving with Navy vessels such as the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which arrived Friday in Port-au-Prince equipped with 19 helicopters, a water-purification plant and carrying tons of medicines.

"People had reserves for a few days, but now they are dwindling. They are afraid to go downtown in search of food because it has become too dangerous," said Haiti resident Patricia Etique, a Swiss citizen.

With thousands of bodies still piled up on the streets of the capital, there was also a race against time to reach any survivors still in the ruins and treat those who were badly injured.

After three days of being left to fend mostly for themselves, foreign relief teams were increasingly seen on the streets, some backed by vital heavy-lifting equipment.

Scores more survivors were pulled alive from the rubble. A Belgian rescue team extracted a 28-year-old Haitian woman from one building after first amputating her leg above her right knee.

"We, along with a Spanish rescue team, also rescued a baby yesterday evening, and now this woman," said Sergeant Major Edouard Dekoster, part of a specialized search and rescue team.

"We\’re very happy. It\’s what we\’re here for, and after this amount of time and the heat, it\’s great to still find people alive," he told AFP.

US President Barack Obama finally reached Haiti\’s President Rene Preval by telephone Friday, and offered "full support" in earthquake relief aid and long-term rebuilding.

He warned "difficult days" lay ahead, noting the nation\’s main port was closed, roads were damaged and severe logistical problems loomed.

"So many people are in need of assistance. The port continues to be closed, and the roads are damaged. Food is scarce, and so is water," he said in a brief White House statement.

Donors ranging from the world\’s richest countries to individuals sending text messages have contributed massive aid for quake-stricken Haiti, but officials warned much more was needed.

According to the United Nations, which is redeploying some 5,000 peacekeepers, soldiers and police officers from across Haiti to Port-au-Prince, some 268.5 million dollars has already been pledged by 20 countries, organizations and private companies.

After pressure from rights groups and lawmakers, the US government granted temporary asylum Friday to Haitians already living illegally in the United States before the quake.


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