Devastation, desperation hinder aid work in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Relief efforts struggled to get food, water and medicine to the hardest hit areas of the island on Friday, as security deteriorated amid a government vacuum and world leaders pledged more aid and personal visits to this devastated nation.
There were reports of some looting in the capital, even as the U.S. military assumed control of the airport and helicopters airlifted supplies from a carrier off the coast.
Evans Paul, former mayor of Port-au-Prince, summed up Haiti’s two most urgent needs:
“We need rescue and security,” he said.
With the USS Carl Vinson stationed in the bay of Port-au-Prince, the commander of the U.S. military relief effort said personnel and supplies were moving into the country, though their distribution was hampered by impassable roads and a desperate population.
In some neighborhoods, angry and frustrated men created road blockades from corpses.
“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 briefing in Miami.
The Haitian government, he said, had begun broadcasting the locations of distribution centers for food, water and medicine.
“Go to those places. Use those places,” he said.
A reprieve also arrived from President Barack Obama, who on Friday approved Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, which will allow them to stay and work in the U.S. and send money home to their loved ones.
Also Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would travel to Haiti today to review the U.S.’ ongoing relief efforts and survey damage from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation Tuesday.
As many sought to leave the island, rescue efforts for those who remained continued around the clock.
At one site in Port-au-Prince, at a house near the presidential palace, rescue workers extricated two older people – a man and a woman – and carried them away on stretchers, battered but alive. The crowd that had gathered burst into applause.
As relief workers focused their efforts on the capital city, other parts of the country were still awaiting food, water and medicine.
As encampments sprung up throughout the island, Haitians grew tired of waiting for international relief and took matters into their own hands – providing security, and rationing what little they have.
Many Haitians were critical of their government for not acting faster to bring help.
“Nobody is coming,” said Jasmine Pierre, who along with 10 members of her family has been camped out in a Port-au-Prince park since Tuesday.
“I think only God is in charge. The government should be here, any government. There is no government in the palace right now. I don’t even really know if Haiti has a government today.”
Haiti’s government institutions struggled to recover from their own devastation.
No single federal government office building remains standing, and officials were looking for a proper headquarters from which to organize relief operations, first lady Elizabeth Preval said.
“The Haitian government has a problem,” President Rene Preval conceded on Thursday.
“Before we can help the people, we have to figure out how to function under an extraordinarily difficult situation.”