Aftershock rattles Haiti, but aid flow ramps up
PORT-AU-PRINCE – A new earthquake shook the devastated Haitian capital Port-au-Prince early on Wednesday, rattling already wrecked buildings and triggering panic among survivors of last week’s devastating quake.
The largest aftershock since the killer quake struck on January 12 rattled masses camping on the streets but appeared not to cause any new destruction or slow international relief bolstered by increasing numbers of U.S. troops.
The 6.1 magnitude aftershock at daybreak sent shrieking Haitians running from buildings and walls fearing a repeat of the magnitude 7 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people eight days ago.
«Things started shaking. We were really afraid. People came out into the street,» said Victor Jean Rossiny, a law student living in the street. «We have nothing here, not even water.»
Desperate and hungry residents of Port-au-Prince have been sleeping outdoors because their homes were destroyed last week or out of fear of aftershocks.
Alarm over violence and looting has eased in Haiti as U.S. troops provide security for water and food aid deliveries, and thousands of displaced Haitians have heeded the government’s advice to seek shelter outside Port-au-Prince.
Haitian officials have estimated the death toll from the quake could be between 100,000 and 200,000, and said 75,000 bodies had already been buried in mass graves.
U.S. Black Hawk helicopters landed in the grounds of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace on Tuesday, deploying troops and supplies and immediately attracting crowds of survivors who clamored for handouts of food.
«Supplies are beginning to get out to the people,» U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said while visiting India. He hoped the presence of U.S. troops would prevent violence.
«There is a concern that if you are unable to get significant supplies out, that in their desperation people will turn to crime and violence,» he said. «We have not seen much of that yet happily, and my hope is that as we get these trucks out on the roads with supplies and people see patrols — that will prevent any significant violence from taking place.»
U.S. Marines using landing craft brought ashore bulldozers, mechanical diggers and trucks on a beach at Neply village west of Port-au-Prince from warships anchored offshore.
Crowds of Haitians quietly watched the amphibious landing, as U.S. Navy teams began handing out food rations and helping quake survivors set up temporary shelters for the homeless.
«We’re looking for help right now. My niece has a broken leg,» said Dieulfaite Dessources, watching the equipment arrival. «I just want to know if I can bring her here.»
Traffic congestion in Port-au-Prince was worse than ever on Wednesday — perhaps a small sign of recovery — as aid trucks and locals driving to gasoline stations to fill up their tanks jammed streets still cluttered with earthquake debris.
Fuel prices have doubled and there were long lines of cars, motorbikes and people with jerrycans outside gas stations.
Cash needs to start circulating again in Haiti’s shattered economy so people can buy food and civil servants can get paid, an International Monetary Fund official said.
Banks would reopen shortly and money transfer agencies were beginning to process remittances from Haitians living abroad, Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, said in remarks published on the IMF’s website.
Remittances total about $1.8 billion a year, accounting for at least 20 percent of Haiti’s GDP, economists say.
«Many people tell me they have run out of cash or are about to,» said Simon Schorno, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman in Port-au-Prince.
In the Champs de Mars park, vendors were doing brisk business selling charcoal to families in makeshift camps who use small tin barbecues to cook.
Landline telephones in Port-au-Prince were still down, but two local wireless networks had spotty service, said U.S. Federal Communications Commission officials helping with the relief effort.
The city’s water system was only partially functional.
While military escorts are needed to deliver relief, the United Nations said security problems were mainly in areas considered «high risk» before the disaster and under control.
«I have seen no indications that lead me to believe that the security situation is deteriorating,» said General Floriano Peixoto, chief of the Brazilian U.N. peacekeeping contingent.
Brazilian peacekeepers have helped Haitian police recapture some of the 4,000 prison inmates who escaped in the quake.
To speed the arrival of aid and stem looting and violence, the U.N. Security Council has unanimously agreed to temporarily add 2,000 U.N. troops and 1,500 police to the 9,000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti. [ID:nN19217356]
Around 12,000 U.S. military personnel are on the ground in Haiti and on ships offshore including the USNS Comfort hospital ship, which arrived on Wednesday to provide essential capacity for complex surgeries.
At least one Latin American leader, Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, a fiery critic of what he calls U.S. «imperialism,» has already accused Washington of «occupying» Haiti under the pretext of an aid operation.
Haitian President Rene Preval has said U.S. troops will help U.N. peacekeepers keep order in Port-au-Prince.
MEDICINE URGENTLY NEEDED
So far, feared infectious diseases have not erupted, although many injured faced the immediate threats of tetanus and gangrene, and hospitals were overwhelmed.
Doctors Without Borders said a cargo plane with 12 tons of medical supplies had been turned away from the congested Port-au-Prince airport three times since Sunday, and five patients died for lack of the supplies it carried.
«We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations,» said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the group’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil.
The humanitarian organization said drugs for surgical care and equipment like dialysis machines were urgently needed.
International search and rescue teams were still combing rubble for survivors. «We know that to date, 121 people have been saved by rescue teams, a record for the number of people rescued after an earthquake,» Pan-American Health Organization deputy director Jon Andrus told reporters.
The World Food Program had provided 200,000 people with rations for seven days, but the International Organization for Migration estimated that 200,000 families — or one million persons — were in need of immediate shelter support.