DEATHS UNIMAGINABLE – HAITI’S DEVASTATION HOBBLES EFFORTS TO REACH SURVIVORS

BY SIMON ROMERO and MARC LACEY
The New York Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Foreign aid trickled into Haiti’s devastated capital on Thursday morning as survivors of Tuesday’s earthquake, many of them injured and homeless, woke to another morning with no electricity and dwindling water, to search for the missing and claim their dead. An Air China plane landed early Thursday with a search team, medical workers and aid, The Associated Press reported. Supplies also began filtering in from the Dominican Republic, as charter flights were restarted between Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

But efforts to administer emergency services and distribute food and water were halting, and in some places, seemingly nonexistent. A few sport-utility vehicles driven by United Nations personnel plied streets clogged with rubble, pedestrians and other vehicles. Fuel shortages emerged as an immediate concern as motorists sought to find gas stations with functioning fuel pumps.

In interviews with American television stations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was working as fast as possible to move aid to Haiti, where a growing sense of urgency to reach victims was taking hold two days after the powerful quake reduced much of the capital to rubble.

Mrs. Clinton told NBC’s “Today” program that 3 million people — about a third of Haiti’s population — had been affected by the quake, and that “there will be tens of thousands of casualties — we don’t have any exact numbers.” She said helping the country rebuild from the quake would be a “long-term effort.”

“We’re going to do everything we can with our resources,” she said. “We have a full-court press going on here.”

Haiti’s president, René Préval, called the death toll “unimaginable” as he surveyed the wreckage on Wednesday, and said he had no idea where he would sleep; the presidential palace is in ruins after the quake. Schools, hospitals and a prison collapsed. Sixteen United Nations peacekeepers were killed and at least 140 United Nations workers were missing, including the chief of its mission, Hédi Annabi. The city’s archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, was feared dead.

And the poor who define this nation squatted in the streets, some hurt and bloody, many more without food and water, close to piles of covered corpses and rubble.

Limbs protruded from disintegrated concrete, muffled cries emanated from deep inside the wrecks of buildings — many of them poorly constructed in the first place — as Haiti struggled to grasp the unknown toll from its worst earthquake in more than 200 years.

In the midst of the chaos, no one was able to offer an estimate of the number of people who had been killed or injured, though there was widespread concern that there were likely to be thousands of casualties.

“Please save my baby!” Jeudy Francia, a woman in her 20s, shrieked outside the St.-Esprit Hospital in the city. Her child, a girl about 4 years old, writhed in pain in the hospital’s chaotic courtyard, near where a handful of bodies lay under white blankets. “There is no one, nothing, no medicines, no explanations for why my daughter is going to die.”

The obstacles to delivering promised foreign aid proved frustrating Power and phone service were out. Flights were severely limited at Port-au-Prince’s main airport, telecommunications were barely functioning, operations at the port were shut down, and most of the medical facilities had been severely damaged, if not leveled.

A Red Cross field team of officials from several nations had to spend Wednesday night in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to gather its staff before taking the six-hour drive in the morning across the border to the earthquake zone.

“We were on the plane here with a couple of different agencies, and they all are having similar challenges of access,” Colin Chaperon, a field director for the American Red Cross, said in a telephone interview. “There is a wealth of resources out there, and everybody has the good will to go in and support the Haitian Red Cross.”

The quake struck just before 5 p.m. Tuesday about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, ravaging the infrastructure of Haiti’s fragile government and destroying some of its most important cultural symbols.

“Parliament has collapsed,” Mr. Préval told The Miami Herald. “The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”

He added: “All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe.”

President Obama promised that Haiti would have the “unwavering support” of the United States.

Mr. Obama said that United States aid agencies were moving swiftly to get help to Haiti and that search-and-rescue teams were en route. He described the reports of destruction as “truly heart-wrenching,” made more cruel given Haiti’s long-troubled circumstances. Mr. Obama did not make a specific aid pledge, and administration officials said they were still trying to figure out what the nation needed. But he urged Americans to go to the White House’s Web site, www.whitehouse.gov, to find ways to donate money.

“This is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share,” Mr. Obama said, speaking in the morning in the White House diplomatic reception room with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at his side.

Aid agencies said they would open their storehouses of food and water in Haiti, and the World Food Program was flying in nearly 100 tons of ready-to-eat meals and high-energy biscuits from El Salvador. The United Nations said it was freeing up $10 million in emergency relief money, the European Union pledged $4.4 million, and groups like Doctors Without Borders were setting up clinics in tents and open-air triage centers to treat the injured.

Some aid groups with offices in Port-au-Prince were also busy searching for their own dead and missing.

Sixteen members of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti were killed and as many as 100 other United Nations employees were missing after the collapse of the mission’s headquarters in the Christopher Hotel in the hills above Port-au-Prince.

Forty or more other United Nations employees were missing at a sprawling compound occupied by United Nations agencies. Ten additional employees had been in a villa nearby.

It was one of the deadliest single days for United Nations employees. The head of the group’s Haitian mission, Mr. Annabi, a Tunisian, and his deputy were among the missing, said Alain Le Roy, the United Nations peacekeeping chief.

The Brazilian Army said 11 of its soldiers had been killed. During a driving tour of the capital on Wednesday, Bernice Robertson, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said she saw at least 30 bodies, most covered with plastic bags or sheets. She also witnessed heroic recovery efforts. “There are people digging with their hands, searching for people in the rubble,” she said in a video interview via Skype. “There was unimaginable destruction.”

Paul McPhun, operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, described scenes of chaos.

When staff members tried to travel by car, “they were mobbed by crowds of people,” Mr. McPhun said. “They just want help, and anybody with a car is better off than they are.”

Contaminated drinking water is a longstanding problem in Haiti, causing high rates of illness that put many people in the hospital. Providing sanitation and clean water is one of the top priorities for aid organizations.

More than 30 significant aftershocks of a 4.5 magnitude or higher rattled Haiti through Tuesday night and into early Wednesday, according to Amy Vaughan, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey. “We’ve seen a lot of shaking still happening,” she said.

David Wald, a seismologist with the Geological Survey, said that an earthquake of this strength had not struck Haiti in more than 200 years, a fact apparently based on contemporaneous accounts. The most powerful one to strike the country in recent years measured 6.7 magnitude in 1984.

Bob Poff, a Salvation Army official, described in a written account posted on the Salvation Army’s Web site how he had loaded injured victims — “older, scared, bleeding and terrified” — into the back of his truck and set off in search of help.

In two hours, he managed to travel less than a mile, he said.

The account described how Mr. Poff and hundreds of neighbors spent Tuesday night outside in a playground. Every tremor sent ripples of fear through the survivors, providing “another reminder that we are not yet finished with this calamity,” he wrote.

He continued, “And when it comes, all of the people cry out and the children are terrified.”

Louise Ivers, the clinical director of the aid group Partners in Health, said in an e-mail message to her colleagues: “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. S O S. S O S … Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.”

haiti jan 14

Simon Romero reported from Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Marc Lacey from Mexico City. Reporting was contributed by Ginger Thompson and Brian Knowlton from Washington, Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City, Neil MacFarquhar and Denise Grady from New York, Mery Galanternick from Rio de Janeiro, and Mark McDonald from Hong Kong.

See Related: WHAT HAITI NEEDS – BY BILL CLINTON, SPECIAL U.S. ENVOY TO HAITI

See Related: WORLD RALLIES TO AID STRICKEN HAITI AFTER QUAKE


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