Haiti mourns its dead, govt ends rescue operation

  • World
  • Saturday, 23 Jan 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti mourned its dead on Saturday and hundreds gathered in the ruins of a wrecked Catholic cathedral to honor an archbishop and other victims killed in last week's earthquake as the government ended search-and-rescue operations.

With international efforts now concentrating on helping hundreds of thousands of hungry, injured and homeless quake victims camped out in the streets, the Haitian government decided on Friday to halt the hunt for survivors under rubble.

"Hope is vanishing now, though we could still have miracles," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in Geneva.

Byrs said search-and-rescue teams had saved 132 people since the Jan. 12 quake but the focus was now turning to medical assistance for survivors and finding bodies.

In the forecourt of the ruined Notre Dame cathedral in Port-au-Prince, a crowd of worshippers, priests and nuns gathered for the funeral of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar General Charles Benoit, both of whom died in the catastrophic earthquake that demolished swathes of the coastal capital.

"What we lost we can't get back. It is not the rich who have lost, or the poor, we are all together," said Leon Sejour, a seminarist who had traveled from the northern city of Cap Haitien for the funeral.

The Haitian authorities estimate up to 200,000 people may have died the quake, which left up to 3 million more either hurt or homeless and desperately clamoring for medical assistance, food and water.

This aid has been slow reaching all the needy despite a huge international relief effort spearheaded by the U.S. military on the instructions of President Barack Obama.


Amid the grief, there were some indications the poor Caribbean country was coming back to life. Outside banks scheduled to reopen on Saturday, Haitians waited impatiently to obtain cash needed to buy food and essential supplies.

At one Unibank in the upscale Petionville district, cars stretched back two blocks waiting for a drive-in ATM to open.

"I'm still waiting patiently. There is no cash, so there is nothing else to do," said Myrtho Larco, a teacher.

"There's no work, there's no jobs, God only knows what's going to happen," she said.

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 only a week or two of stocks remained and it had received no deliveries.

On the same day the Haitian government declared search-and-rescue operations over, rescuers pulled two people barely alive from collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince.

An 84-year-old woman was rescued from under a wrecked building on Friday and evacuated by boat by the U.S. Army and, elsewhere in the shattered capital, an Israeli rescue team freed a 22-year-old man from the rubble.

Up to 1.5 million Haitians lost their homes in the earthquake.

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

"We can do this 24 hours a day for the next six months and we still won't meet the need," said First Sergeant 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.

Dozens of celebrities raised money in the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon which appeared on major U.S. networks and cable channels on Friday night. The benefit was organized by actor George Clooney and included performances by Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean, Bruce Springsteen, U2 frontman Bono and Madonna.

The U.S. military contingent includes more than 13,000 personnel 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.

Henriette Chamouillet, the World Health Organization representative in Haiti, said on Friday aid distribution remained a problem.

She said the Haitian prime minister complained at a meeting with aid workers that only 10 percent of the population in makeshift camps had received any food aid while some camps had received three times the amount of food they needed. (Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer, Adam Entous, Joseph Guyler Delva and Natuza Nery in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Pascal Fletcher and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

((For more multimedia coverage see http://www.reuters.com/subjects/natural-disasters))

((For relief effort information see http://www.alertnet.org))

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