Clinton resents criticism

2010-01-26 22:17

Port-au-Prince - Two new aftershocks rattled weary Haitians on Tuesday, as top US officials defended the huge American military-led aid operation from criticisms of being too heavy-handed.

"We just can't get used to these quakes. Each aftershock is terrifying and everyone is afraid," trader Edison Constant said after the aftershocks struck in quick succession around dawn, two weeks after the quake.

"I hid under my bed," added iron merchant Julien Louis, exhausted by a stream of some 50 aftershocks since the devastating 7.0-magnitude quake on January 12.

The US Geological Survey, which warned the Caribbean nation could be feeling aftershocks for the next 30 days, measured the second tremor at 4.4.

But for the traumatised people left homeless, hungry and destitute each new quake is a fresh reminder of the terrifying minute two weeks ago when the earth shook, destroying their lives.

Haitian leaders say the earthquake killed 150 000 people and left a million homeless with hundreds of thousands now dependent on handouts from a massive aid relief operation and living in makeshift camps.

Clinton deeply resents criticism

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the US operation in Haiti from criticisms that it lacked leadership and had been too heavy-handed in the immediate chaotic aftermath of the quake.

"I deeply resent those who attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake," Clinton said.

Some 20 000 US troops have been sent to Haiti to help distribute food and water. They took over control of the damaged airport, but many have remained stationed on offshore ships, including a floating hospital which has been treating scores of injured.

The United States needed to send both troops and civilians "to deliver aid to the Haitians who desperately needed it", Clinton said. "We're scrambling as quick as we could to do everything we needed in the past two weeks."

Leftist Latin American allies Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba have criticised the United States for its response, accusing US forces of occupying the country rather than helping its people.

A senior Italian official separately deplored a lack of a co-ordinated international aid effort in Haiti, saying the United States had "too many officers" there and could not find a capable leader.

The international relief effort has indeed struggled to get enough aid into the capital Port-au-Prince and out towards flattened towns near the quake's epicentre, stoking security fears.

Looters more organised

Looters were out early on Tuesday in the capital's commercial centre and appeared to be more organised than in past days, sharing out the tasks of digging through the rubble, equipped with wagons and sledgehammers.

Donor nations and aid organisations have warned rebuilding the impoverished country will take at least a decade.

"Right now, the needs of the people are survival and immediate recovery," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Next comes the phase of long-term reconstruction, he told foreign media in Tokyo. "This is going to be more than 10 years of efforts."

And Haitians, who lived with decades of political upheaval and bloodshed, remain fearful that the new-found international interest in their plight could soon fade.

"The West has come to help us. It is extraordinary, but it will not last," said Andre Muscadin, an evangelical pastor. "Rather than give us a fish, teach us to catch fish."

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the world must hammer out a long-term strategy after meeting the Caribbean country's immediate needs for food, water, shelter and healthcare.

Donor countries have agreed to hold a full conference on aid to Haiti at the UN headquarters in New York in March.

Haiti's President Rene Preval urged the world to urgently airlift 200 000 more tents and 36 million ready-to-eat packs before the rainy season starts in May.

Aid organisations fear disease could spread like wildfire if thousands are still living in tent cities when the rains come.