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Fear of violence rises in Haiti as aid lags

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Desperate Haitians scrambled Sunday to find food and water and guarded their meager possessions against the advance of looters as the United States and other nations struggled to jump-start a sluggish relief effort.

Even as Navy and Coast Guard ships arrived off shore, a round-the-clock airlift intensified, and additional dignitaries appeared, the frantic victims of Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake were growing more fearful as they pleaded for help and security in a lawless city.

With massive amounts of aid promised but not yet delivered because of the difficulty of operating in the crippled country, the living banded together outdoors without shelter, sustenance or protection. There was widespread apprehension that unless the pace of aid distribution quickens, there could be mass violence as hundreds of thousands of people suddenly lacking food, water and electricity begin to compete for scarce resources.

"We worry," said Laurence Acluche, a Haitian National Police officer. "We are all concerned about food."

Haitians held Sunday prayers in the streets of the ravaged capital while rescue workers continued digging in the ruins for something like a miracle.

A team from the United States pulled a woman from a fallen university building under which she had been trapped for 97 hours. Another woman was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Montana, while a separate team was able to provide water to three people heard shouting from beneath the ruins of a supermarket.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon traveled to Port-au-Prince to assess damage and discuss the organization's response to the quake, which by some early estimates had left more than 100,000 people dead and affected 3 million residents. The prime minister said government trucks had collected 70,000 Haitian bodies for mass burial. At least 36 U.N. workers and 16 Americans were among the dead.

U.N. officials said Sunday that the organization has provided food for 60,000 people so far in Port-au-Prince.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who have been tapped by President Barack Obama to lead private sector fundraising efforts for Haiti, appeared on five Sunday TV talk shows as part of their effort.

In Port-au-Prince, the mood managed to stay mostly calm, but there was more looting and shootings, including of four men who witnesses said were shot by police on suspicion of looting. There were fewer bodies in the streets, though in some places residents began burning corpses.

Many merchants were afraid to open their stores for fear that they would be overrun by hungry, desperate quake victims. Even pharmacies remained shuttered.

"We need the Haitian forces to protect us," said Cledanor Sully, owner of a small Port-au-Prince hotel called the Seven Stars. "We're all scared. We need the United Nations and we need the United States Marines."

Indeed, all over Port-au-Prince, signs begging for help from the Marines have been sprouting. At this point, though, it's unlikely that there will be a large U.S. military presence in Port-au-Prince. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said over the weekend that there will be up to 10,000 U.S. forces in Haiti and off its coast by today, but only a fraction of them will be on the ground.

"The bulk of them will be on ships," he said.

The troops that have been deployed to Haiti have been slow in arriving. Officials blame delays in part on Port-au-Prince's small, overburdened airport.

After the French group Doctors Without Borders issued a public call that its planes be allowed to land to treat the wounded, its hospital plane received clearance about 3 p.m. Sunday. An Air Force official said the U.S. military turned away only three of the 67 civilian flights trying to arrive Saturday.

But the dearth of security forces on the ground in Port-au-Prince is actually delaying the provision of food and medical aid, some aid workers say. For instance, the Colombian Red Cross has a mobile clinic on the ground, but it can't set it up until security is arranged.

Still, some progress is being made. The U.S. 18th Airborne set up a headquarters at the airport, and the 82nd Airborne was establishing small posts around the city to protect food and water drops.

Seven field hospitals have been set up in Port-au-Prince by international organizations, and three more were supposed to open Sunday, said Nicholas Reader, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian relief effort.

Information from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

Fear of violence rises in Haiti as aid lags 01/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 7:57am]
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