Streets of fear and terror

2010-01-17 08:03

Desperate Haitians cowered in fear and cried out for food yesterday as armed

looters roamed the streets of their ruined capital and US troops struggled to

break an aid logjam.

Four days after Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake, the Haitian

government admitted it was no longer able to function properly. US Secretary of

State Hillary Clinton was set to oversee relief efforts.

“People are hungry, thirsty. They are left on their own,” said Leon

Meleste, a Seventh Day Adventist sporting a white “New York” baseball cap.

“It is increasingly dangerous. The police do not exist; people are

doing what they want.”

The Haitian capital, insecure at the best of times, is now devoid

of a functioning ­police force, bringing fears of a dystopian war of all against

all in the wake of Tuesday’s huge 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

“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.”

Buino’s immediate fear comes from a nearby prison which contained

“the worst gangsters in the city”.

When the earthquake unleashed its fury on Port-au-Prince’s two

million inhabitants it also let loose upon them the 4 000 convicts who escaped

from the city’s ­collapsed jail.

“All the bandits of the city are now on the streets,” a local

police officer said, standing near the city’s collapsed jail, rifle at the

ready. “They are robbing people. It is a big problem.”

A vanguard of the 10 000 US troops being deployed to Haiti has

taken control of the airport, clogged with tons of relief supplies, and has

begun the first distribution of aid to quell the threat of violence.

Clinton said she would travel to Haiti to see the earthquake relief

efforts at first hand, deliver more supplies and meet ­Haiti’s President René

Préval.

“We will also be conveying very directly and personally to the

Haitian people our long-term, unwavering support, solidarity and sympathies to

reinforce President Obama’s message that they are not facing this crisis alone,”

said Clinton.

With the presidential palace and several other key government

buildings destroyed, the Haitian government is operating out of a police station

at the airport where Préval, looking exhausted and with dark pockets under his

eyes, said: “The government has lost its capacity to function properly, but it

has not collapsed.”

Préval praised the massive international relief effort, but warned

that the aid ­operation remained uncoordinated.

He said 74 planes from countries including the US, France and

Venezuela had ­arrived at Port-au-Prince’s overwhelmed airport in a single

day.

Préval works in an office protected by two guards from his security

detail. In ­another office, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive was holding a

meeting with several ministers.

Bellerive’s original office now serves as a shelter for hundreds of

families left ­without homes.

As the Haitian leader struggles to piece together the remains of

state, the country’s destitute citizens are trying to fill the void.

“Organise neighborhood committees to avoid chaos!” Radio Metropole

implored residents. “To prevent people looting shops and houses.”

Patricia Etique, a Swiss citizen who divides her time between

Europe and Haiti, explained the dire predicament many Haitians face.

“People had reserves for a few days, but now they are dwindling,”

she said. “They are afraid to go downtown in search of food because it has

become too dangerous.”

At the city’s harbour on Friday, a swarm of small boats surrounded

the first supply ship to arrive as it approached a crumbled pier with supplies

from Jeremie, a Haitian town about 200km from Port-au-Prince.

Bananas will provide local residents with necessary food, while

coal will help to boil water to avoid spreading disease.

Haitian authorities said 200 000 people had been killed. Trucks

piled with corpses have been carrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves

outside the city, but thousands of bodies are believed to be still buried under

rubble.

“We have already collected around 50 000 dead bodies,” Interior

Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé said.

“We anticipate there will be between 100 000 and 200 000 dead in

total, although we will never know the exact number.”

Some 40 000 bodies had been buried in mass graves, said Secretary

of State for Public Safety Aramick Louis.

With food in such short supply, vendors were selling plates of

pasta for about 10 times more than before the quake.

Kassana-Jean Chilove, a young mechanic who lost her daughter in the

earthquake, expressed fury at the government.

“The government is bluffing us,” she said. “There are millions of

dollars pouring into Haiti, but we see nothing.

“At the head of the country a group of friends is divvying up the

money.”

Before the earthquake “we had bottled water or boiled it for

ourselves”, said nurse Marie-Jose Carneli, whose son, Bryan-Michael, began

screaming from under the rubble a few hours ago.

“But now we have no gas or coal and you cannot sterilise the

water,” Carneli said.

“I cannot buy anything because my money is stuck in the rubble of

my house,” she said, throwing a plastic bottle angrily at an area were pigs were

scavenging.

The Haitian president called on his countrymen to show patience,

and he ­defended the government against accusations of inaction.

“No one is alone in his situation. I understand that people suffer

because they have relatives under the rubble, but they must understand that

there are thousands of people in that very same situation,” said Préval, adding

that people underestimated the extent of the damage.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon was set to visit Haiti today and the world

body has appealed for $562 million from donors.

The UN mission was hit hard by the earthquake, with 37 of its

12 000 employees confirmed dead and some 330 still unaccounted for.

– Sapa-AFP,

Reuters.


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