Buses, cash and radios flow amid Haiti's rubble

  • World
  • Saturday, 23 Jan 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Cash became available and buses started running in Haiti's rubble-clogged capital on Friday but there was still not enough food to feed desperate earthquake survivors who were expected to need emergency aid for months.

"We can do this 24 hours a day for the next six months and we still won't meet the need," said First Sargent Rob Farnsworth, part of a U.S. Army airborne unit handing out food packs at a squalid camp where survivors lived in the open air.

Up to 1.5 million Haitians lost their homes in the Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked the small Caribbean country, devastated its capital Port-au-Prince and killed up to 200,000.

Relief agencies estimated one-third of Haiti's 9 million people would need emergency food, water and shelter for an extended period.

Haitians struggled to find food, water and medical care. Even those whose homes withstood the magnitude 7 quake were too traumatized by aftershocks to sleep under a roof.

There were signs of daily life resuming. Taptaps, Haiti's small, colorfully decorated private buses, circulated in Port-au-Prince, sharing streets with the earth-movers and digging machines clearing debris.

Banks were scheduled to reopen on Saturday and money transfer agencies did brisk business after opening on Friday.

"I want to get some cash sent by my family from Canada. It's $500 but it's difficult. There are so many people," said businessman Aslyn Denis, 31, waiting in a line with hundreds of people, some of them jostling each other, outside a Unitransfer office.

The dead body of a young man lay in a street, his head swollen and bloody. Residents said he tried to steal money and was stoned by a crowd. He wore socks but his shoes were gone and his pockets had been pulled out.


Edmond Mulet, acting head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, said coordination in delivering aid was getting better every day. The World Food Program distributed 1.2 million food rations to hospitals and orphanages on Thursday and hoped to give out 10 million in the next week.

"We may be able to scale up even quicker," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. "We finally have supplies and food coming in from all over the world."

The seaport in Port-au-Prince was repaired enough to partially reopen for cargo ships, while airstrips outside the capital and in the Dominican Republic received relief flights.

But nearly 1,000 hungry people swarmed a U.S. military truck as an 82nd Airborne company known as "the Beast" handed out food and water at an encampment on a soccer field. Overwhelmed, the troops pulled out after distributing 600 packaged meals, leaving 250 food packs still on the truck.

A large supermarket, Big Star Market, reopened in the Petionville suburb on Friday, selling everything from slabs of ham and goat meat to Valentine's Day chocolates. But the store manager said they had only a week or two of stocks left and had received no deliveries.

Haitians are realizing it could take months or years to regain some sense of normalcy.

"We want it to be over, but it's not finished yet, things are bad," said Jeanette, a 53-year-old architect shopping at the market. "I've lost my office. I've lost a whole year of work. We have no stability, no direction, we've been left to fend for ourselves. We can't plan for the future, we're just living day-to-day."

The United Nations counted nearly 450 encampments in Port-au-Prince alone where the homeless huddle, cook and sleep amid mounds of garbage.

More than $1.2 billion has been pledged to help rebuild roads, government buildings and homes, but the World Bank said much more would be needed to get Haiti on its feet.

"My anticipation is that $1.2 billion is just the floor," the bank's director for the Caribbean, Yvonne Tsikata, told France 24 television.

The International Monetary Fund urged donors gathering in Montreal next week to adopt a Marshall Plan for Haiti, similar to the U.S. effort that helped rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

"It is not unrealistic to imagine that the country can be rebuilt as a prosperous nation. But it needs help over a prolonged period," IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn wrote on the Huffington Post.


U.S. Navy helicopters ferried in boxes of water to distribute to Haitians lined up at a sprawling camp that covered a golf course. Actor Sean Penn stopped by to deliver antibiotics, painkillers and water filters. "The whole city has collapsed," he said.

U.S. troops were giving away 50,000 solar- and crank-powered radios to help displaced Haitians receive announcements telling them where aid was available.

More than 13,000 U.S. military personnel are in Haiti and on ships offshore, flying in supplies, evacuating the seriously wounded and protecting aid distribution points. The United Nations is adding 2,000 troops and 1,500 police to its 9,000-member peacekeeping mission.

But for many, life remained precarious.

At another camp in Port-au-Prince, a woman tried not to moan in pain as a student doctor bandaged her badly-injured leg. In the dirty tent where he worked, cooking pots bubbled and a dog slept inches from the open wound.

"Of course there is the risk of infection," said Alexi Guyto, 26. "For the most part, we have lost the people who came with major traumas after the earthquake but we still have lots of head and other injuries."

(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer, Adam Entous, Joseph Guyler Delva and Natuza Nery in Port-au-Prince, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; writing by Jane Sutton; editing by Philip Barbara)

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