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In Haiti, help slowing starts to flow


Pushed to the far edge of desperation, earthquake-ravaged Haitians dumped decaying bodies into mass graves and begged for water and food Friday amid fear that time is running out to avoid chaos and to rescue anyone still alive in the wreckage.

With a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed off the coast and the security situation deteriorating in the nation's capital, the commander of the U.S. military relief effort said supply lines had finally begun moving.

"If the citizens of Haiti will just remain in place and remain calm, help is on the way," Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, said at a news briefing in Miami.

The Haitian government, he said, had begun broadcasting the locations of distribution centers for food, water and medicine. Though there was little evidence of relief yet in the desperate streets of Port-au-Prince, supplies were moving out of the city's airport, Fraser said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would go to Haiti today to inspect the damage and meet with President René Préval and other officials.

More military forces were on the way as well to help the 4,200 personnel already in the country or offshore on the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-power aircraft carrier. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 9,000 to 10,000 U.S. forces were expected in Haiti, on shore and off, by Monday.

Heavy equipment to clear rubble-choked roads was coming with them, but Fraser acknowledged there were major obstacles ahead and said he could not yet estimate when aid would began arriving to the hardest hit areas.

Time was running out to rescue anyone who may still be trapped alive in the many buildings in Port-au-Prince that collapsed in Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 quake.

"Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. "Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb."

As of early Friday afternoon, 1,067 foreign search-and-rescue workers were searching for survivors with 114 dogs, according to Nicholas Reader, a spokesman for U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

An Australian TV crew pulled a healthy 16-month-old girl from the wreckage of her house Friday — about 68 hours after the earthquake struck. In a collapsed house, neighbors and reporters heard a cry and found an air pocket: part of the top floor had been held up by a cabinet.

Although her parents were dead, Winnie Tilin survived with only scratches and soon was in the arms of her uncle, whose pregnant wife also was killed.

"I have to consider her like my baby because mine is passed," Frantz Tilin said.

As temperatures rose into the high 80s, the sickly smell of the dead lingered over Port-au-Prince, where countless bodies remained in the streets. At a cemetery outside the city, trucks dumped bodies by the dozens into a mass grave. Elsewhere, people pulled a box filled with bodies along a road, then used a mechanical front-loader to lift the box and tip it into a large metal trash bin. South of the capital, workers burned more than 2,000 bodies in a trash dump.

At a nondescript police building near the airport that has been converted into President Préval's de facto headquarters, the disarray was clear. A clutch of luxury SUVs was parked at the entrance, which was guarded by members of an elite police unit that seemed, with a glance and a shrug, to let anyone with a heartbeat inside.

Ministers in the lobby of the building compared notes, trying to figure out the extent of the destruction of recent days. Some lamented that Digicel, the private telecommunications company offering Blackberry service in Haiti, had not yet restored its network, keeping senior officials from communicating with a semblance of efficiency.

Eyewitnesses in Port-au-Prince said frustrated survivors had blocked some roads with corpses and groups of men were spotted roaming the streets with machetes. Looting of houses and shops increased Friday, and anger boiled over in unpredictable ways. Residents near the city's overfilled main cemetery stoned a group of ambulance workers seeking to drop off more bodies.

Some people were bracing for the worst. Harold Marzouka, a Haitian-American businessman who was hustling his family onto a private jet to Miami, said he could feel the tension rising.

"If aid doesn't start pouring in at a significant level, there will be serious consequences on the streets," he said. "People are in the shocked and frightened phase. But the next phase will be survival."

Emilia Casella of the U.N. World Food Program said the WFP would start handing out 6,000 tons of food aid recovered from a damaged warehouse in the city's Cite Soleil slum and was preparing shipments of enough ready-to-eat meals to feed 2 million Haitians for a month.

At the airport, foreigners waved their passports to guards as they scrambled to escape the chaos by boarding the departing flights.

Some 250 Americans were flown to New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base on three military planes.

The Cuban government said Friday it had allowed U.S. airplanes to fly through its airspace as it evacuated wounded from Haiti, a move which shaves 90 minutes off flights to Miami.

Outside the capital, Haitains continued to struggle with the devastation.

In the coastal city of Jacmel in southwestern Haiti, scores of homes and buildings were reduced to rubble. At a vocational and auto school, an estimated 100 students were crushed when the building collapsed, neighbors said. Several bodies could be seen amid the wreckage, and flies buzzed all over.

The winding road between Jacmel and Port-au-Prince is buried in mounds of dirt and travelers are forced to get through on motorcycles. The obstacles will only leave Jacmel and other cities and towns in southern and western Haiti more isolated and desperately in need of water, medicine and food.

"There is chaos,'' Haiti's first lady Elisabeth Préval told the Miami Herald. "But the chaos is for everybody, even those managing the chaos."

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

In Haiti, help slowing starts to flow 01/15/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 8:27pm]
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