Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latest on International Relief Efforts in Haiti

"Haiti aid begins to arrive in quake zone"
"Red Cross officials say death toll could hit 50,000"

"Desperately needed aid from around the world slowly made its way Thursday into Haiti, where supply bottlenecks and a leadership vacuum left rescuers scrambling on their own to save the trapped and injured and get relief supplies into the capital.

The international Red Cross estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's magnitude-7 earthquake...

Planes from China, France, Spain and the United States landed at Port-au-Prince's airport, carrying searchers and tons of water, food, medicine and other supplies — with more promised from around the globe for the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, where the international Red Cross estimated 3 million people — a third of the population — may need emergency relief.

"Money is worth nothing right now, water is the currency," one foreign aid-worker told Reuters.

But an official at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the agency had stopped all civilian flights from the United States to Haiti at the request of the Haitian government, because there is no room on the ground for more planes and not enough jet fuel for planes to go back.

“It’s been just crazy,” said Charity Peguero, a company spokeswoman for Aero Ambulancia. “People are willing to pay whatever price to get their people there.”

Her firm, an emergency flight company in the Dominican Republic, had shuttled medical crews and injured passengers in and out of Haiti on 15 flights on Wednesday. Most victims had suffered from facial fractures, skull fractures and other life-threatening injuries, she said.

On Thursday, it was a different scene.

The firm’s helicopters were grounded, stranding aid workers, news crews and others hoping to travel to Haiti, she said.

“Minutes are passing by and people are needing help,” she said...

It took six hours to unload a Chinese plane because the airport lacked the needed equipment — a hint of possible congestion ahead as a global response brings a stream of aid flights to the airport, itself damaged by Tuesday's magnitude-7 earthquake.

"We don't have enough handling equipment or the people to run it," said U.S. Air Force Col. Ben McMullin, part of the team handling traffic control at the airport. "We're trying to control the flow of aircraft."

There seemed to be little official Haitian presence in much of Port-au-Prince — or at the airport.

McMullin said about 60 planes carrying 2,000 people had landed since Wednesday, when the airport reopened after the quake, and noon Thursday.

U.S. military forklift operators helped unload some foreign flights as well as U.S. cargoes and Haitian staff were far outnumbered by foreign aid workers and military, and no senior Haitian officials were visible...

Bodies lay in the street, often covered by a white cloth, in the tropical heat. Some people dragged the dust-covered dead along the roads, trying to reach a hospital where they might leave them.

Others tried to carry dead relatives to nearby hills for impromptu burials, prompting Brazil's military — the biggest continent among U.N. peacekeepers — to warn the practice could lead to an epidemic. It said it is asking authorities to create a new cemetery.

The Brazilian military said it also was worried that bodies could be left too long because many Voodoo followers in Haiti do not allow the dead to be touched before all their rituals are concluded.

'This is much worse than a hurricane,' said Jimitre Coquillon, a doctor's assistant working at a triage center set up in a hotel parking lot. 'There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die.'

Aid workers reported confusion over how to cope with the sudden flood of aid from scores of places.

'Donations are coming in to the airport here, but some are coming without notice from very well-meaning groups,' said Save the Children spokeswoman Kate Conradt. 'There is not yet a system to get it in' to those who need it.

Search and rescue squads from Virginia and Iceland arrived Wednesday and some groups — from Cuba's government and Doctors Without Borders — used physicians already in the country to treat victims immediately after the quake...

The State Department announced one American had died in Haiti, saying that at least 164 U.S. citizens have been evacuated since the quake.

Coast Guard C-130 planes have airlifted 42 American officials and their families and another 72 private citizens to safety, Crowley said.

Another 370 Americans were awaiting flights out, he said. There were about 45,000 Americans living in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it set up a Web site to help Haitians find missing loved ones. Robert Zimmerman, deputy head of the group's tracing unit, said people in Haiti and abroad can use the site to register names of missing relatives."

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