PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Prayers of thanksgiving and cries for help rose from Haiti’s huddled homeless Sunday, the sixth day of an epic humanitarian crisis that was straining the world’s ability to respond and igniting flare-ups of violence amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince.
Haitian police struggled to scatter hundreds of stone-throwing looters in the city’s Vieux Marche, or Old Market. Elsewhere downtown, amid the smoke from bonfires burning uncollected bodies, gunfire rang out and bands of machete-wielding young men roamed the streets, faces hidden by bandannas.
A leading aid group complained of skewed priorities and a supply bottleneck at the U.S.-controlled airport. The general in charge said the U.S. military was “working aggressively” to speed up deliveries.
Beside the ruins of the Port-Au-Prince cathedral, where the sun streamed through the shattered stained glass, the priest told his flock at their first Sunday Mass since Tuesday’s earthquake, “We are in the hands of God now.”
But anger mounted hourly that other helping hands were slow in getting food and water to millions in need.
“The government is a joke. The U.N. is a joke,” Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, said as she lay in the dust with dozens of dying elderly outside their destroyed nursing home. “We’re a kilometer from the airport and we’re going to die of hunger.”
Water was delivered to more people around the capital, where an estimated 300,000 displaced were living outdoors. But food and medicine were still scarce.
A reliable death toll may be weeks away, but the Pan American Health Organization estimates 50,000 to 100,000 died in the tremor, and Haitian officials believe the number is higher.
In a further sign of the delays, the aid group CARE had yet to set a plan for distributing 38 tons of WFP high-energy biscuits in outlying areas of Haiti, CARE spokesman Brian Feagans said Sunday. He did not say why.
The Geneva-based aid group Doctors Without Borders put it bluntly: “There is little sign of significant aid distribution.”
The “major difficulty,” it said, was the bottleneck at the airport, under U.S. military control. It said a flight carrying its own inflatable hospital was denied landing clearance and was being trucked overland from Santo Domingo, almost 200 miles away in the Dominican Republic, delaying its arrival by 24 hours.
The U.S. has completely taken over Port-au-Prince airspace, and incoming flights have to register with Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, said Chief Master Sgt. Ty Foster, Air Force spokesman here.
“You won’t have the stray cats and dogs allowed to come into the airspace and clog it up,” he said.