Hope rises as damaged port reopens in Haiti

2010-01-22 11:48

Sophie Nicholson in Port-au-Prince

THOUSANDS of Haitians waited by the sea on earthquake-cracked mud

Today, surrounded by bags and babies, hoping the imminent reopening of the

capital’s port would allow them to flee.

The main port, a potential hub for the international campaign to

feed this quake-devastated nation, was to open partially today despite strong

signs of damage to its structure, including buckled wharves, leaning telephone

poles and slanting cranes.

With Port-au-Prince’s airport overloaded with aid and military

flights many hoped the harbour would help receive massive international aid

shipments for hundreds of thousands of desperate survivors of the January 12

earthquake.

But gaping fissures still slice through the pier where ships unload

and it wobbles during each of the terrifying aftershocks that have followed the

original quake.

“It’s not good. It’s a very unstable platform at this point,” said

Lieutenant Commander Mike Pierno of the US Coast Guard today.

US navy and army divers were due to start repairing the pier today

– work that is expected to last several weeks – while US coast guard and Haitian

officials will ensure it is not overused.

“Right now it (the port) can still be repaired and we don’t want to

do any more damage,” Pierno said.

Since the earthquake a couple of aid ships from France and the

Netherlands have unloaded supplies on the unsteady pier, while around 10 more

are anchored offshore. On the other side of the port, thousands of Haitians wait

to board boats out of the capital.

Many observers have warned of a rush by desperate survivors to

reach the US by boat but those at the port said they were heading for the town

of Jeremie, where their families live, in the far west of the island.

Coast guard officials said though there were no signs of a mass

migration it was to be expected.

“Everything points to it but it’s not happening now,” said Pierno,

adding that people would probably set off from the north of the island.

Roger Rouzier, the director of a shipping company that has been

using the port for 15 years, said US naval forces were patrolling a cordon off

Port-au-Prince to prevent the departure of boats full of refugees. His ferry,

the only boat to Jeremie, carried some 2?500 survivors from the capital for free

today but then hesitated to pick up more due to a shortage of fuel.

The government has now given him 5 680 litres of fuel to help move

people out, alongside private contributions of 1 890 litres, he said, adding

that he planned to give two more free passages.

A broad patchwork of colourful clothes and bags still filled all

visible space on land, where some families had waited for days, while hundreds

of others crowded on several large, wrecked ships nearby.

“I have nothing to do here, I just want to leave,” said 30-year-old

Pierre Louia, sitting in the mud surrounded by his family. “When there’s

something to do, I’ll return.”

Brigadier General Mike Dana, in charge of the logistics of the US

operation in Haiti, has said fuel would be shipped to the port at the

weekend.

“The port is probably at 30% of its capacity right now,” said Dana

this week, but “after 21 days it will be at full capacity.”

Sitting in a small fishing boat with his wife and nine-year-old son

Jean Moise said he hoped to take a boat out of the capital very soon.

“I lost two cousins and a nephew and a niece in the earthquake.

We’re the survivors but we have nothing,” Moise said.

“Maybe in 10 or 15 years we’ll manage to rebuild the country with

international aid but for now we’re in a desperate situation.”


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