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Scale of Haiti tragedy dwarfs aid effort

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The staggering scope of Haiti's nightmare came into sharper focus Monday as authorities estimated 200,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless in the quake-ravaged heart of this tragic land, where injured survivors still died in the streets, doctors pleaded for help and looters slashed at one another in the rubble.

The world pledged more money, food, medicine and police. About 2,000 U.S. Marines steamed into nearby waters. And former President Bill Clinton, special U.N. envoy, flew in to offer support. He and his daughter, Chelsea, helped unload cases of bottled water from their plane to a U.N. truck.

"It is astonishing what they're accomplishing," said Clinton, emerging from a tour of Haiti's general hospital, which has been overwhelmed with patients. Clinton said he heard of vodka being used to sterilize and of operations without lights.

Six days after the earthquake struck, search teams still pulled buried survivors from the ruins on Monday. But hour by hour the unmet needs of hundreds of thousands grew.

Uncounted thousands of survivors sought to cram onto buses headed out of town. In downtown streets, others begged for basics.

"Have we been abandoned? Where is the food?" shouted one man, Jean Michel Jeantet.

The U.N. World Food Program said it expected to boost operations from feeding 67,000 people on Sunday to 97,000 on Monday. But it needs 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days, and it appealed for more government donations.

"I know that aid cannot come soon enough," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in New York after returning from Haiti. "Unplug the bottlenecks."

Ban asked the Security Council to approve 1,500 more U.N. police and 2,000 more peacekeepers to join the 9,000 or so U.N. security personnel already in Haiti.

Pentagon officials said they had about 1,700 troops in Haiti, the vanguard of an estimated 5,000 American soldiers and Marines expected to be in the country by midweek.

So far violence has been scattered, with the security situation overall fairly calm. But senior U.N. officials said it might boil over at any moment as the difficulties of living without water, food and shelter mount.

In one step to reassure frustrated aid groups, the U.S. military agreed to give aid deliveries priority over military flights at the now-U.S.-run airport in Port-au-Prince, the World Food Program announced in Rome.

Amid the debris and the smoke of bodies being burned, dozens of international rescue teams dug on in search of survivors. And on Monday afternoon, some 140 hours after the quake, they pulled two Haitian women alive from a collapsed university building.

The latest casualty report, from the European Commission citing Haitian government figures, doubled previous estimates of the dead from the 7.0-magnitude quake to about 200,000, with about 70,000 bodies recovered and trucked off to mass graves.

But Alain Le Roy, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, said he could not confirm the estimate of as many as 200,000 dead. He said that as far as he knew, the toll has not surpassed 50,000 dead.

European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless.

Scale of Haiti tragedy dwarfs aid effort 01/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 12:10am]
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