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U.S. soldiers arrive to help keep the peace in Haiti

port-au-prince

U.S. soldiers arrive to help keep the peace

The Black Hawk helicopter sloped down and settled on the lawn of the presidential palace with the drama of a visiting head of state — or an invasion — but delivering neither.

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne hopped out of the gray chopper as the thump and wind blast of the rotors pelted hundreds of Haitians who lined the green iron fence.

As many as 3,500 soldiers from the 82nd, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., will be in Haiti eventually, helping to keep the peace and distribute food, water and other necessities. On Tuesday, Charlie Company from the 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment was assigned to beef up security at a hospital about 200 yards from the palace.

The soldiers face fewer threats than they have in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan but are encountering equally traumatic scenes of a different kind.

"I thought I was back in Iraq," Sgt. 1st Class Daymond Graves said later. "You only see so much on TV, and then you get here and see it. This is really serious."

Thousands leave shattered capital

Thousands of Haiti's quake victims are struggling to board buses to flee hunger and violence in the shattered capital, hoping that food will be easier to find in the countryside.

"Thousands and thousands are leaving. I've never seen such a rush, even at Christmas," said driver Garette Saint-Julien, who was trying to manage the crowd in front of his bus.

Upward of 1 million people may flee the Port-au-Prince area for the countryside, straining Haiti's already precarious farms, said Laurent Thomas, director of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization's emergency operations.

"We've got no more food and no more house, so leaving is the only thing to do," said Livena Livel, a 22-year-old street vendor who was traveling to her father's house near the town of Les Cayes four hours south of Port-au-Prince.

"At least over there we can farm for food," she said, carrying her 1-year-old daughter, Othmeline.

Livel and the six relatives leaving with her said they had scraped together the last of their money to pay for the trip. The one-way fare had nearly doubled to the equivalent of $7.70 — more than three days' income for most Haitians.

Two UF students return home safely

Two University of Florida graduate students who were in Haiti when the quake struck have returned home safely.

Roman Safiullin and Jon Bougher had flown to Haiti for five days to gather footage for a thesis documentary film about Planting Peace, an organization that aids orphans, among other causes.

When the earthquake hit, Safiullin, of Fort Lauderdale, and Bougher, of Weare, N.H., were at the orphanage, about 30 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince and 25 miles from the epicenter.

Outside, they saw stunned Haitians wandering with blood-covered faces and hands; buildings left in shambles; survivors thanking God with lifted arms and voices.

Bougher made his way onto a flight to the United States last Thursday. Safiullin didn't reach home until Saturday, after a Coast Guard escort to the Dominican Republic

Sources: Times staff writer Katie Sanders; Associated Press; McClatchy Newspapers

U.S. soldiers arrive to help keep the peace in Haiti 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 10:04pm]
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