Looters roam Haiti streets as US troops pour in

2010-01-16 09:56

MACHETE-WIELDING looters brought more terror to Haiti’s streets on

Friday as US troops poured into the quake-ravaged nation to start streaming tons

of aid to traumatisits ed and destitute people.

Three days after Tuesday’s earthquake, anger and frustration

mounted in the ruined capital city, with thousands of people still desperate for

food and water 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.

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 terrorised 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 homes. There are many armed men,

a lot of looting,” said Eglide Victor, whose shabbily-built house was the only

one left standing on his street in the heart of the Haitian capital.

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,” said Nicholas Reader, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the

Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon is set to visit Haiti on Sunday as the world

body appealed for $562 million from donors. Ban said the UN system was

mobilising all its resources “as fast as we possibly can.”

The UN mission in Haiti was hit hard by the quake, with 37 of its

12?000 employees confirmed dead and 330 unaccounted for.

UN officials said the World Food Programme was now feeding about

8?000 people several times a day and hopes to feed roughly one million people

within 15 days and two million people within a month.

“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 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.

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’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,” Sergeant Major

Edouard Dekoster, part of a specialised search and rescue team, commented.

US President Barack Obama finally reached Haiti’s President Rene

Preval by telephone on Friday, and offered “full support” in earthquake relief

aid and long-term rebuilding.

But President Preval said the the aid operation needs to be better

organised.

“We need international aid but the problem is the coordination,” he

said.

Preval, whose temporary seat of government is now a police station

near the capital’s airport, said 74 planes from countries including the United

States, France and Venezuela, had arrived in a single day.

Scientists warned that Haiti and its neighbours must prepare

themselves for more massive quakes after the devastating tremors this week

increased pressure along a lengthy fault line.

Paul Mann, a senior research scientist at the Institute for

Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin, warned that just because the

rebuilding process had started people shouldn’t assume the risk was over.

“This relief of stress along this area near Port-au-Prince may have

actually increased stress in the adjacent segments on the fault,” he warned.

 

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