Haitians suffer as relief supplies bottle up at airport

Hundreds of bodies, of adults and children alike, were piled outside Port-au-Prince’s morgue, bloated under the blazing sun. Relatives picked their way around them trying to find missing loved ones.

Associated Press

Hundreds of bodies, of adults and children alike, were piled outside Port-au-Prince’s morgue, bloated under the blazing sun. Relatives picked their way around them trying to find missing loved ones.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

The news on the radio delivered the latest shock to Ives Sima: The eight-story technical college run by his cousin in the Haitian capital had collapsed in Tuesday's massive earthquake.

Sima, a high-school biology teacher, jumped on his bicycle and peddled nine miles from his home to the wrecked building. He wanted to offer the only tool he had: his hands.

All day Thursday, Sima and a handful of other volunteers using small, dull saws and broken windowpanes were the only rescuers searching for dozens of missing students and teachers at St. Gérard's Technical School in Port-au-Prince.

"It's the families of the victims — it's not the government," said Sima, 32, whose cousin, Louis Larosilière, had founded the college. "For us, the government doesn't exist at all."

Two days after much of this ramshackle city was shattered, the global helping hand was slowed by the poor roads, airport and seaport of a wretchedly poor nation.

Bodies were piled on street corners, and residents stepped past quickly, holding limes to their noses to block the stench. Family members were moving their dead across the city in coffins borne on shoulders. One man ferried a body down a street in a wheelbarrow. At a partially collapsed funeral home, the open carport held 20 bodies, some of them children. Just outside the chaotic General Hospital was an especially gruesome pile of corpses, bloated from the sun.

"We are all alone. We don't have any contact with anyone. No phones. No help. We beg for the Americans to come help us. Look at us!" said Jules Hector, an elderly man helping a neighbor, Pauline Paul, who was being carried to the hospital on a broken door.

• • •

Some 60 aid flights had arrived by midday Thursday, but they then had to contend with the chokepoint of an overloaded Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport. At midday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was temporarily halting all civilian flights from the United States at Haiti's request, because the airport was jammed and jet fuel was limited for return flights. The control tower had been destroyed in Tuesday's quake, complicating air traffic. Civilian relief flights were later allowed to resume.

"There's only so much concrete" for parking planes, U.S. Air Force Col. Buck Elton said at the airport. "It's a constant puzzle of trying to move aircraft in and out."

Teams that did land then had to navigate Haiti's inadequate roads, sometimes blocked by debris or by quake survivors looking for safe open areas as aftershocks still rumbled through the city. The U.N. World Food Program said the quake-damaged seaport made ship deliveries of aid impossible.

• • •

Survival depended increasingly on the luck of being freed from under rubble, on treating the thousands of wounded and on speeding the halting flow of emergency food and water.

Doing anything remained a logistical nightmare. Electricity remained nonexistent. Gasoline remained in short supply. Thousands remained camped in parks, in the street, under trees. One of the biggest such camps was in the park of Champs Mars near the presidential palace.

"My home and my store are destroyed, so we are staying here," said Deliverance Sanveur, 49, a shop owner who was staying under a sheet in the park with 15 of her relatives.

"People have been almost fighting for water," aid worker Fevil Dubien said as he distributed water from a truck in a northern Port-au-Prince neighborhood.

Ronald Jedna, covered in white dust atop a damaged building, had just been freed, after spending a day caught in a crevice of his apartment building with beams pressing in against his chest.

He said he tried to cry out but his throat was too dry and he was too weak. Eventually, though, a neighbor peered through a tiny slit, discovered him and managed to pry him loose.

"A day felt like a year," he said. "You're buried alive. You can't scream. You wonder if anyone will ever come."

• • •

The International Red Cross estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in the quake, based on information from the Haitian Red Cross and government officials.

By Thursday evening, the Haitian president, René Préval, said that 7,000 people had already been buried in a mass grave.

Despite the strength of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the United Nations reported that the damage appeared to be confined to the capital and a few outlying areas.

In Washington, President Barack Obama promised $100 million in aid, as the first wave of a projected 5,000 American troops began arriving to provide security and the infrastructure.

"You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten," Obama told the Haitian people in an emotional address at the White House. "In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you."

The U.S. Southern Command reported the first 100 of a planned 900 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division landed in Haiti from North Carolina on Thursday to support disaster relief, to be followed this weekend by more than 2,000 Marines.

From Europe, Asia and the Americas, other governments, the U.N. and private aid groups were sending planeloads of high-energy biscuits and other food, tons of water, tents, blankets, water-purification gear, heavy equipment for removing debris, helicopters and other transport, and teams of hundreds of search-and-rescue, medical and other specialists.

"Donations are coming in to the airport here, but there is not yet a system to get it in," said Kate Conradt, a spokeswoman for the Save the Children aid group.

Doctors and search-and-rescue teams worked mostly with the few materials in hand and waited, frustrated, for more supplies, especially much needed heavy equipment.

"Where's the response?" asked Eduardo A. Fierro, a structural engineer from California who had arrived earlier in the day to inspect quake-damaged buildings. "You can't do anything about the dead bodies, but inside many of these buildings people may still be alive. And their time is running out."

• • •

Almost no one, it seemed, was spared tragedy. Sima, the small and balding teacher, had barely escaped with his wife and five children as their house tumbled down in the quake. Then he heard on the radio about the collapse of St. Gérard's, his 60-year-old cousin's school. "He was like a father to me," Sima muttered.

Arriving at the school, Sima found eight floors pancaked into five, a dusty white mountain of rubble. The body of a man in a golf shirt hung out from the ruined building.

About 20 men began picking at the debris. But hours later, they were still getting nowhere.

Sima turned angrily to a crowd of gawkers.

"Come help! Do not talk! Talk is cheap! Help!" he screamed.

Suddenly, one of the brightly painted public buses known as tap-taps pulled up, hired by a student's family. "Here's a generator!" a man in the crowd cried.

Through hours of digging, there was only one sign of officialdom. About 2 p.m., a Haitian government official — known as a civic action monitor — appeared.

"If you have a pickup truck, bring the bodies to the General Hospital," the bureaucrat, Lamour Jean Guyto, called through a bullhorn, referring to a dozen corpses lying on the street near the school. He then walked past the bodies — a St. Gérard's student, a woman wrapped in a sheet printed with dragon cartoons, a naked baby boy covered with flies.

An off-duty police officer paused from his work digging a roadside grave. There were no cars to transport the bodies, he said, and no space at the morgue.

"That's why we've decided to bury them ourselves."

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

How to help Haiti

American Red Cross (through American Red Cross International Response Fund): www.redcross.org. Text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross, charged to your cell phone. Phone: 1-800-733-2767 or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Address: P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

International Red Cross: icrc.org.

AmeriCares (disaster relief and humanitarian aid): americares.org. Phone: 1-800-486-4357. Address: 88 Hamilton Ave., Stamford, CT 06902.

Catholic Relief Services: crs.org. Phone: 1-800-736-3467. Address: P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7190.

Doctors Without Borders (medical aid; U.S. chapter): doctorswithoutborders.org. Phone: 1-888-392-0392. Address: P.O. Box 5030, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5030.

Episcopal Relief and Development:
er-d.org. Phone: 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Address: P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: jdc.org. Phone: 1-212-687-6200. Address: JDC-Haiti Earthquake Relief, P.O. Box 530, 132 E 43rd St., New York, NY, 10017.

Islamic Relief USA: irw.org. Phone: 1-888-479-4968. Address: P.O. Box 5640, Buena Park, CA 90622.

Lutheran World Relief: lwr.org. Phone: 1-800-597-5972. Address: P.O. Box 17061, Baltimore, MD 21298-9832.

Yele Haiti: Haitian musician Wyclef Jean tweeted an appeal to donate $5 toward relief. Text 501501 and the donation will be charged to your cell phone.

Haitian Association Foundation of Tampa Bay will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday at University Area Community Development Center, 14013 N 22nd St., Tampa. It's their regular meeting, but they will discuss relief efforts. Web site: haftb.org.

For a more complete list of aid agencies, go to links.tampabay.com

Haitians suffer as relief supplies bottle up at airport 01/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 10:29am]

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